Thursday, December 30, 2010

A Half Dozen?

The other day, as I sat curled up cat-like on The Big Chair sipping my tea, I thought, "Yes, another would be nice . . . ." I was reading Cheaper by the Dozen, the entertaining account of the Gilbreth family who raised twelve children during the first decades of the twentieth century. I pictured them at their music lessons, the older ones tending the younger ones . . . . I pictured them at their studies, chanting along with the German and French records while bathing or dressing -- impressive multi-taskers (their father was an efficiency expert) -- and it seemed a very charming picture indeed.

We had also recently watched The Sound of Music. A family of singers! In matching costumes, no less . . . . The harmonies we could produce! And I'm sure Jamie would enjoy being called Captain . . . . I could get him a whistle.

So there I sat, the warm glow of the tree lights dancing across the pages of my book, the fragrant tea cupped in my hands, my arms eager to cradle a little one. Maybe just a half dozen . . . .

Enter Little Miss Avery Kate. "Mama! Watch this!" her wee voice bellowed (oh yes, it's quite possible for a very small set of vocal chords to produce an unearthly sound). She proceeded to soar through the air from her perch atop the arm of the couch and land in a pile of cushions. I calmly began the explanation that she knew was coming.

"Darling, we don't jump on the couch -- "

Enter Bethie at the piano. Very eager to work on her newly acquired piece, Carol of the Bells. (Perhaps you've seen It's a Wonderful Life. You know the scene where George comes home and his house is fairly erupting? Tommy needs help spelling frankincense, Zuzu's petals need pasting, and Janie is pounding away at the keys. Well, this scene frequently comes to mind when certain people in this family approach the piano bench.)

So, as I said, sister started in at the piano.

"That's coming along nicely, dear -- "

SMACK. Enter Aidan. "Mama! This is so awesome!" And his new remote-controlled helicopter veered first into the tree, then into his little sister's hair, the rotors winding tightly around her lengthy tresses.

Of course, the scene would be incomplete without me mentioning that Drew was (as usual) in the background, shouting out basketball plays like a seasoned announcer. It might have been an actual game. I'm not sure. But whatever it was, the play-by-play was very . . . intense.

After extricating Miss Kate's hair from the rotors, I returned to my tea and tried to focus on the last chapter of my book. So maybe the Gilbreths could raise a dozen. And perhaps seven was just right for the Von Trapp family. But as I attempted to tune out the fierce play-by-play, the shrieking ballerina, the caroling of bells, and the wiz of the chopper, my quiver -- strangely enough -- felt nice and full. Maybe we'll just stick with our plan to get a dog.
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Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Pixie Brain

Have you ever wished you could take a peek into your child's brain? Kind of like that special glimpse you get while spying, unnoticed, into a Sunday school class -- the sweet little pixie doesn't know that she's being watched by her mama. You see how she interacts with others. You see the sweet smiles, the dimpled nod, the bashful sway and you think . . . who on earth is that?

Yesterday we played Bananagrams. Jamie was rather entertained just watching me play. When it comes to word games, I tend to be a tad . . . focused. I wasn't about to let Aidan and Avery distract me from finding every letter for the word "religion" among my tiles. I frantically searched for more words, only vaguely aware that these small people were slowly piecing together their own three letter words.

For a minute I snapped out of it when I realized that Avery was asking for my help. "Mommy? How do you spell badger?" How cute. I glanced over at her tiles. And I got a peek into that little pixie brain. Except for a bit of spelling assistance, this is primarily her work:

Heaven help us.

P.S. I think the accompanying discarded, chewed up piece of gum (a frequent, post Christmas stocking occurrence of late) is the least of my worries.
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Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Promise

The words of Isaiah have brought tears to my eyes and swelling to my heart this season. Words dripping with promise, with hope, with triumph. Isn't this what we've all been waiting for?

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace . . . He will reign on David's throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.
Isaiah 9:6-7

May the Prince of Peace dwell fully enthroned on our hearts -- not only this Christmas weekend, but for all eternity -- and may the zeal of the Lord Almighty accomplish much through lives fully given unto Him. Many, many blessings to you, my dear readers!
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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Lavender Lullaby -- It Works!

When Drew was a newborn, my friend Mary introduced me to infant massage. She held a class for those interested, and while most students brought a doll to "massage," I got to bring my new baby boy. As I practiced the techniques at home, this shared time with my son turned into a very tender, special routine. My boy grew and wiggled and eventually toddled away, and the massages went by the wayside. The practice was revived briefly with Bethie upon her arrival, and I probably gave Aidan a token rub or two. I'm drawing a complete blank when it comes to Little Miss Avery Kate. That's how it is.

A few years slipped by, and I found myself frustrated with the bedtime routine in our home. I wanted it to be a calm, peaceful hour, but it was more often a frazzled, whining mess. Not at all conducive to pleasant dreams. I stumbled upon the idea of spraying a light, fragrant mist on the kids' pillows (I think this was my sister's suggestion), in hopes of adding a calming element to the evening. It worked for a while, and then we moved, the mist was misplaced, and I forgot about it. (Have you detected a pattern here? I have a terrible memory.)

Recently, Little Miss Avery Kate has struggled at bedtime. I recalled the fragrant spray idea, but all I could find in the house was my perfume. I lightly misted her pillow for several nights, and she enjoyed the sensation that mama was right there with her. It didn't take long for me to realize, however, that this would end up being a rather costly way to scent the pillow of a five-year-old.

A few weeks ago, as I scanned the aisles at Trader Joe's, I noticed that they carry lavender oil. When I saw that it came in a spray bottle, I figured that I just might have stumbled upon the perfect solution.

I brought the oil home, and that night told Miss Kate that I had a special treat for her. Because it was an oil and not just a fragrance, I figured that I probably shouldn't squirt it all over the place. And then I remembered the infant massage. Avery's "special treat" evolved into a cozy, lavender back massage. We chatted, prayed and giggled. She felt my touch, heard my voice. And we knew we had discovered a beautiful new evening ritual.

Before long, the back massage wasn't enough. It became necessary to include the arms, legs, tummy and face as well. Word got out, and soon Aidan was begging for the special treatment. So I made my rounds, rubbing little backs, whispering gentle prayers. Bethie jumped on the bandwagon, and finally Drew hinted, "Maybe you could do my back?"

My heart found delight in discovering something so simple (we're talking five minutes here, folks) that spoke volumes to my children. I marveled over how special this time was for each of them, and then I realized why it worked so well for their varied personalities.

Do you remember the love languages that Dr. Gary Chapman wrote about several years ago? Basically, he states that we express and respond to love in five different ways. Most people fall primarily into one category or a combination of the following: words of affirmation, quality time, receiving gifts, acts of service, and physical touch.

My children represent each one of these "languages" in their own unique ways. And this simple little lavender rub happens to fall into each category -- physical touch is obvious. But also the time I spend with each one, the gift of the massage, the service of working out little tension spots in a child's back, and the affirming words spoken as we spend time together. So no matter how they respond to love, they are sure to feel that their mama cares very deeply about them.

Bedtime is slowly but surely transitioning into a more peaceful hour around here. I've definitely noticed a difference in the younger two. They are more inclined to stay in bed and tend to fall asleep more easily, too. This is especially the case when we have a calm, predictable routine involving a decent bedtime, a story or two, prayer, and plenty of hugs and kisses. And knowing that they can now have a longer massage if they're in their beds on time? Well, it works!

Illustration by Jessie Willcox Smith 1908
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Saturday, December 18, 2010

Lessons Learned from a Yellow Bowl

We were just finishing up the last of the Saturday house cleaning when I heard a crash. Taking a deep breath (I knew composure would be ideal come what may), I headed into the kitchen. My yellow bowl, my yellow vintage Pyrex, lay shattered among the popcorn remnants it once held. Little Miss Avery Kate looked up with big eyes. "It just slipped, Mommy." I quickly assessed the situation. "Are you okay, Sweetie?" She nodded. The others were drawn to the scene and looked on. Remarkably, I was at peace. I swept the scattered shards, keeping up a casual conversation so that Avery, too, would sense the peace. It was okay. Bethie sighed and commented, "Looks like you're going to have to find another one."

Yes, I'll have to find another one. I had started a collection in hopes of matching the set my grandmother once used. This was my first. The yellow mixing bowl. Somewhere out there I would also find the green, the blue, the red. Some estate sale, some Goodwill outing, they would be there. Now I'll have to be on the lookout for the yellow one again, too. But that's okay.

I seem to have a thing for bowls. I also seem to have a thing for breaking them. When Jamie and I were engaged, we went to a bridal show. At the end of the event, prizes were given to a number of couples. We won a beautiful blue and white Portmeirion bowl. It was soon christened "The Blue Bowl." It held crisp salads and whipped potatoes for a few years until that fateful day when I tried to juggle too many dishes at once. It shattered. I mourned for my Blue Bowl. It was a sad, sad day.

The following Christmas, my parents presented Jamie and me with a box. From England. Its contents? A new Blue Bowl. Apparently, it had become quite difficult to track down by that time, but my blessed ma-MA (please accent so as to sound British) phoned her way until she found the Blue Bowl. It now resides loftily on display above my kitchen cabinets. I love my Blue Bowl.

As much as I love these simple little treasures, I know that my reactions to accidents are even more crucial. It was actually quite uncharacteristic of me to be so composed during the Yellow Bowl Incident of 2010. But I was, and I know that it was the work of the Holy Spirit that enabled me to respond with composure. His word, just recently nestled in my heart, determined the outcome: Let us pursue the things which make for peace . . . . Indeed, I felt whole and complete -- even among the brokenness. When God's children allow the Spirit to manifest the fruit instead of trying to force it on their own, I'm convinced that they will experience a startlingly abundant life, no matter how trivial the situation may seem.

I fully intend to be on the lookout for another yellow bowl. The hunt is part of the fun. I know it's out there somewhere. And as soon as it's nestled safely in my cupboard, my new Yellow Bowl will become a quiet reminder of that blessed peace that even a "hopelessly flawed" mama can attain.
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Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Slow to Speak

As I busily scrubbed the last of the dishes, his little hand reached toward the stack of scratch paper on the counter. He was delighted to find a pad of post-it notes nestled among the pile. I immediately envisioned them being peeled away with reckless abandon, meaningless scribble defacing the once-perfect yellow squares.

It's happened before. Like the time I came downstairs to find that the children were planning to go on strike. An oatmeal strike. The post-it notes were plastered all over the kitchen cabinets and appliances, warning me that a certain breakfast was not welcome. (I, of course, warned them that an oatmeal breakfast was better than no breakfast. They quickly agreed. I added a heaping spoonful of brown sugar to each bowl. They smiled. End strike.)

Back to the post-it notes. We had plenty of other little pieces of note paper, and I figured they were probably just as well suited to his needs. So as I continued to load the dishwasher, I requested that he use the scratch paper instead. He happily obliged.

He stayed at the counter and slowly worked through the letters. With his unique left-handed slant, my boy took his time, eager to perfect his new cursive skills. He finished and smiled his broad, big-boy-tooth smile, "It's for you!" I took the paper and melted over its message: "I love you!!!"

And I was worried about wasting post-it notes. I hugged my beamish boy, and he placed his note on the ledge above the kitchen sink.

I inwardly grimaced once again as I noticed that he happened to place it on top of three popsicle sticks. Another reminder of my shortcomings . . . . I had attempted a room-cleaning system where the kids each got three popsicle sticks. If they stayed on task, they got to keep their sticks. If I found them neglecting their work, I took a stick. Should I gain possession of all three sticks, they would have an earlier bedtime that night. It seemed like a good idea at the time. But I wasn't so sure when I saw his three sticks sitting there under his love note, as though I was somehow trying to keep . . . a record of wrong.

There are many pauses along life's journey where a mama must think about what she's done, what she's said. This was such a pause. I felt the weight of desiring perfection and order in my home. These things can certainly have their place. But are there times when this striving squeezes out opportunities to receive my child's affection? Are there times when this striving inhibits growth and creativity?

During this striving, the Lord gently reminds me: Slow to speak, dear one, slow to speak. I'm learning that this applies not only in situations where anger may threaten to rule (as we often consider in the passage from James), but also in situations where my fear of losing control may threaten to rule. This is a big one. I have much to say to my children. I have grand plans for making order out of chaos. And slowing down is rarely on my to-do list. But I choose to press on . . . slowly . . . knowing that I'd much rather have a house full of Aidan's post-it notes than just about anything else in this world.
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Saturday, December 11, 2010

'Twas Two Weeks Before Christmas

'Twas two weeks before Christmas
And although it was late,
Up in the wee hours
Was Miss Avery Kate.

The others were tucked
In their beds with great care,
But Little Miss Muffet
Chose not to be there.

Perhaps 'twas the chocolate,
Or maybe the tea,
That kept our sweet pixie
From where she should be.

For into our room
With scarcely a clatter,
Tiptoed the baby;
We thought, "What's the matter?"

Her reason was simple --
She just needed to be
With her two favorite people:
Daddy and me.

I kissed her round cheeks,
And squeezed that girl tight,
Heard peaceful breathing,
And knew all was right.
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Thursday, December 9, 2010


Sisters, sisters,

There were never such devoted sisters . . .

Caring, sharing,

Every little thing that we are wearing . . .

Irving Berlin
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Tuesday, December 7, 2010

What Am I Getting Ready For?

After making sure that I wasn't over the 20 grocery limit, I hurriedly emptied the contents of my cart onto the quick check-out counter. The checker went through the usual greetings and questions.

"Washington resident?" she began.


"How are you?" she continued.

"I'm well, thank you," I answered, glancing at my watch. Ten minutes and I needed to be home.

"Did you find everything you were looking for?"

"Yes, I did," was my reply (even though the selection of white tights for my girls was lacking -- I knew I didn't have time to explain it all).

Silence. I'm terrible at small talk. Another glance at the watch.

"Are you ready for the holidays?" she started up again.

My mind raced. I searched and faltered, "I'm getting there. I was able to do a bunch of shopping yesterday . . . and we got our tree up last week . . . ." I hesitated as if there should be more.

Again, silence. I felt like there was more to say. But how to summarize?

Her mind looped to the beginning of her check-out questions. "Did you find everything you were looking for?"

I pretended like it was the first time she had asked. "Yes, thank you."

And my groceries were bagged. We said goodbye. I left.

I wheeled that cart into the parking lot and felt a knot in my stomach as a gust of icy wind forced its way around my chilled body. What on earth was I thinking? Shopping? The tree?

And I realized that's just it -- I was thinking about . . . earth. I was thinking about man's version of "the holidays." Based on our five minute conversation, that woman had no idea that my preparations would involve -- or should involve -- anything more than presents and decorations.

Why should they?

Is that really all that I'm getting ready for? If that's on the top of my mind when someone asks about my holidays -- no matter how rushed I am -- it causes me to wonder.

And I grieve. Here we are, over a week into the advent season. Our family has so enjoyed our evening Jesse Tree devotions. I love it when we light the candles. I love it when my little ones read the Word. I've even seen a change in their demeanor as we work to memorize a passage that our pastor shared on Sunday:

So then let us pursue the things which
make for peace and the building up of one another.

But these preparations can't stay at home. I can memorize verses, I can light the candles, I can pray to be more patient with my children. But if it all stays shut up within these walls, then what's the point?

I want another chance. A do-over. I want to tell her that I am preparing for the holidays every single day. I am anticipating the celebration of Christ's birth. I am anticipating His triumphant return. And I am decorating and giving because I am filled to the brim with His love. That's what I'm getting ready for.

Scripture: Romans 14:19. Illustration by Tasha Tudor.
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Friday, December 3, 2010

This Glow

How we prize the fire just now! How pleasant is its cheerful glow!
Let us in the same manner prize our Lord, who is the constant source of warmth and comfort in every time of trouble. Let us draw nigh to Him, and in Him find joy and peace in believing.

~C.H. Spurgeon~

We're only a few days in, but I'm loving the rhythm of advent. I love this setting aside of time, this purposeful moment each evening to share, think, celebrate, anticipate.

The leaves stir restlessly beyond the windows. The wind chimes send mournful wails out into vast darkness. The chill forces us to prefer the comfort of home. So we watch the fire, we light the candles, and we're warmed. We prize this cheerful glow, this glow that brings even more life to each rosy little cheek huddled 'round the nativity. This glow of anticipation. This glow of believing. This glow of knowing. He's coming! Let us draw nigh.
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Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Oh, Aidan. Continued.

You've heard it before. He makes me laugh. There was a dry spell for a while and I thought, "Oh well. Guess he's done being weird."

And then tonight I peek into the bathroom just to make sure he's actually in the tub, scrubbing the bod. He's in the tub, alright. Upside-down, feet in the air. Head submerged, blowing bubbles like crazy. A perfect 10 headstand, just like his Noni taught him.

So the update, just in case you're wondering: He's totally not done being weird.

P.S. There's no picture to verify this behavior. You'll have to take my word for it. Please accept the charming shot above instead.

P.P.S. I'm pretty sure that Noni had nothing to do with him attempting this maneuver while submerged.
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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Oh, Be Careful Little Mouth What You Say

We were zipping down 162nd, the kids chattering in the back of the van about how they'd like to decorate the tree. They were most excited about continuing the tradition that my husband's family began long ago: decorating the tree while eating fresh doughnuts and sipping homemade Hershey's hot chocolate.

Above the kid chatter and the TobyMac, I heard a portion of Avery's contribution to the conversation:

"But Mommy's allergic to colored lights!"

Silence. And then laughter. I caught my Sweetpea's eye to make sure that she was okay with us laughing. She was.

"Oh, Sweetie! Mommy was just teasing. I'm not really allergic to colored lights. I just prefer white lights on the tree." She smiled as she processed it all.

This is perhaps a good time to mention the fact that I teasingly told my children last year that I was allergic to colored lights and could only abide to have white lights on the tree. I said it with such drama, with such big, silly eyes, that I was sure everyone knew I was joking. But a four-year-old Little Miss Avery Kate took her mama's words very seriously. And she remembered them. For a year.

I'm thankful she remembered something funny and silly that was in no way detrimental. But I've been thinking about it for days. How many other words are tucked into my baby's subconscious? Am I speaking words that bring life, words that she'll remember next year? Or am I speaking words that bring . . . death? Oh, it makes me shudder.

When I was a kid, my parents gently suggested -- well, required -- that I memorize Ephesians 4:29. I had exhibited some sort of angry outburst, and this was their brilliant way of addressing the sin and tucking God's Word in my heart -- words that I can still quote today:

Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to need of the moment, that it may give grace to those who hear.

I know that my words are heard by my children. I want them to be edifying, according to the need of the moment, but also according to the fact that they may very well be remembered a year from now. Perhaps longer.

Well, I've got some hot chocolate to make. The tree goes up tonight (with white lights, of course). The doughnuts are nestled safely in their box, and I pray that my words are nestled safely . . . in grace.

Last year's Little Miss Avery Kate
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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

No Greater Joy

Sunday night, two of my children said, "Yes!" Before hundreds, they affirmed their belief in a risen Savior and joined the swelling ranks of those who have gone before. Through misty eyes, I tried to navigate my emotions. Joy, definitely, in seeing my children seek the Lord's will for their lives. Peace, too, in knowing that their future is in His hands.

And gratitude. Yes, much gratitude. Gratitude for the community of believers that took part in this joy-filled celebration. My bleary eyes scanned the faces. Dear family. Johnny and Brooke with little Kinsley, visiting from Slovenia. Amazing, the Lord's timing, to bring them here just in time for a baptism service. My sister and her family -- a sweet baby smiling from mama's arms -- the embraces, affirmations, and joyful cousins. My husband's family, with sister-in-law expecting number five at any moment, making the jaunt from north county, celebrating with more cousins. Our precious parents and siblings -- the kids' grandparents, aunts and uncles -- juggling various offspring, passing communion precariously through rows bursting with kids (guided by Aidan's helpful commentary, "Here comes the juice!").

My dear friends. Nodding smiles and attempts at silent conversation across the room (joy just makes a person talk, you know). My children's friends, being there to cheer them on, friends that have gone before and stepped into those waters, and friends that have yet to touch those waters yet surely will. My pastor. He who led me through my first job at the church office, he who led Jamie and me through our pre-marital counseling, he who led us through our vows and the dedication of children. He continuing to lead with wisdom and humility.

The faces brought joy and a glimpse of the holy, as eyes and spirits were alight with the warmth of some thirty believers saying "Yes!" to their King. The faces before me continued to bring joy as I witnessed the baptism of three young adults whom I once babysat. These beautiful, eloquent believers, no longer playing tea party and dress up with my sister and me (although I'm sure we all would if given the chance!). No -- they have grown. And they, too, are saying "Yes!"

And two more, most precious faces. My Bethie, smiling over at her Daddy who had "the best seat in the house" behind the video camera. And my Drew, thoughtful and serious, grasping the weight of this momentous occasion. Indeed, I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.

Photos by Donna Hafer
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Thursday, November 18, 2010

This Ambition

Let nothing ever set your heart beating so mightily as love to Him. Let this ambition fire your soul; be this the foundation of every enterprise upon which you enter, and this your sustaining motive whenever your zeal would grow chill; make God your only object.

C.H. Spurgeon

Just imagine what our lives might be like if we were to fully embrace this holy ambition!

"My Sweet Rose" by John Waterhouse
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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Five Minute Timer -- It Works!

As a young bride, I had visions of keeping a perfect home for my family. Naturally, my goals began in the kitchen. The smell of freshly baked bread would always pervade this sanctuary. The sink would be scoured on a regular basis, the floor would be so clean that a child could scoot and toddle without the slightest smudge appearing on the knees or (perfectly white) socks. Pies with golden crusts would emerge from a remarkably shiny oven, and I would greet my husband at the door each evening with a fresh smile, starched apron and a perfectly timed dinner.

(Excuse me for a moment -- I'm snickering at my blissfully ignorant young self right now.)

So anyway, that's what I envisioned. I quickly realized, however, that simply donning the apron would not do the trick. It involved work. Lots of it. My first indication that I was not cut out for the Perfect Homemaker Award was when I realized that I couldn't even stand to unload the dishwasher. I'd come out in the morning, see that fateful green light, and shrink back in horror. All those dishes. Waiting. Just waiting. And I'd quickly turn around and find something else to do. Eventually those dishes got unloaded, but certainly not in a timely fashion.

One day, it occurred to me that I should just buckle down and do it. After all, it probably wouldn't take a super long time. I glanced at the clock, opened the dishwasher door and went at it with a vengeance. After the last glass had disappeared behind the cupboard door, I looked again at the clock. Huh. It only took five minutes. I started to laugh at myself. Five minutes? I've been running away from a green light and it could have been conquered in five minutes?

That five minute dishwasher challenge changed my approach to housekeeping. I realized that it was silly for me to dread a five minute task. In fact, I actually started to enjoy unloading the dishwasher. To think -- dishes neatly tucked away in just a few minutes! What an accomplishment! I vividly remember thinking, "Wow -- I used to dread this, but now I kind of like it. Maybe that's partly how we mature. I wonder what kinds of tasks I'll be embracing when I'm all grown up!"

And it got me excited to think about how many other five minute tasks were out there to be tackled. So I started to pay attention to the clock. Changing the sheets? Five minutes. Scouring the sink? Five. Toilet? Yep -- five.

Sometimes I'd divide larger tasks into smaller five minute tasks to make them feel more manageable, too. Cleaning the entire bathroom takes some time, but when I remind myself that the toilet can be done in five, and likewise the sink, then it's not nearly so bad.

I haven't yet figured out how to make bread in five minutes (although the bread machine certainly cuts back on labor), and it will take a miracle for me to enjoy scrubbing the shower. But finding little ways to ease the load can make a mama's work that much more rewarding. What five minute task might you seize today?
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Thursday, November 11, 2010

Just as I Am (Just as Soon as I'm Ready)

There are two especially cozy places in my home that are ideal for opening my Bible and communing with the Lord. One happens to be the school room. I tend to venture there when I feel like my life is a bit more put together. The books are lined obediently on the shelves, the clock ticks reliably in the corner, the sun slips warmly through the blinds, and the round, brown table offers to hold my journal, tea and Bible for a meeting with my Savior.

The other cozy place is in my bedroom. A big, squishy chair sits invitingly in the corner, draped with a throw that my Mama's friend gave me years ago. This is where I land when I feel like I need to escape. It's often gray and rainy when I choose this refuge. I don't bother with the tea. The children have most likely just finished bouncing off the walls, and I have most likely just finished banishing them to their rooms for a quiet time so that I can banish myself for the same purpose.

Lately, however, I've been neither put together nor fraught with despair. I've been just plain busy. The table in the school room has been piled with neglected stuff -- ungraded papers, yarn, stubby crayons, a cap-less glue stick, confiscated kitchenware -- stuff that just landed and stayed put. The cozy chair in my room has been piled with laundry, yarn (there's always yarn lying around -- it's uncanny), band-aid wrappers (another ubiquitous nuisance) and a dozen books.

Sometimes, it's too easy to pass my cozy places by. There's much to be done, and I'm not quite ready. Perhaps just as soon as I sort through this pile . . . .

Thankfully, I eventually stop in my tracks when this happens and realize the ludicrous pattern I've developed. Since when should I decide to share a quiet moment with the Lord only when my cozy spots are available?

This afternoon was one of those "stop in my tracks" days. I hadn't even put on my makeup yet and was feeling not at all put together. But the Lord gently reminded me that He wants me just as I am -- not just as soon as I'm ready.

Well, the school room was definitely out of the question. I headed upstairs (after banishing the wee peeps) and attempted to approach the squishy chair. I was sure it was there somewhere. After removing the laundry and several Dr. Seuss books, I found my refuge. Sinking into the welcome quiet, I thanked God for His persistence and faithfulness. He blessed me, as always, with encouragement, grace and unconditional love.

I went from that place veiled in peace. The rest of the afternoon was peaceful, the evening was peaceful. The children were no less bouncy, and the table was no less cluttered. But I had answered the Lord's call, and He had blessed me -- just as I am.
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Tuesday, November 9, 2010

She Walks in Beauty

She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies,

And all that's best of dark and bright
Meets in her aspect and her eyes,

Thus mellow'd to that tender light
Which heaven to gaudy day denies.

One shade the more, one ray the less
Had half impair'd the nameless grace

Which waves in every raven tress

Or softly lightens o'er her face,

Where thoughts serenely sweet express
How pure, how dear th
eir dwelling-place.

And on that cheek and o'er that brow
So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,

The smiles that win, the tints that glow

But tell of days in goodness spent,

A mind at peace with all below,

A heart whose love i
s innocent.

Lord George Byron

This weekend, it was my honor to take part in watching women walk in beauty. Robed in white, these women floated down the runway for a unique fashion show -- a fashion show in which wedding gowns from the 50s to the present adorned their graceful forms.

The imagery has kept me stunned for days.

The theme for our church ladies' brunch was "Chosen for a Purpose." Each of these girls was chosen. (As in, I cried out to God, "Help! I need a bunch of models!" And He brought me just what I needed.) Each of the gowns was chosen. (As in, I cried out to God, "Help! I need a bunch of wedding gowns!" And He brought me just what I needed.)

The gowns and women, each chosen . . . for a purpose. Not chosen only for entertainment, and not chosen only for fellowship. But also chosen to provide a lasting image that might be treasured in our hearts: an image of one being clothed in brilliant, satiny white. An image of one being presented -- blameless, spotless -- before her Groom.

As I gazed upon the beauty swirling throughout that room, something caught in my throat. The beauty was tangible. I wanted to reach out and hold onto it. I wanted each and every woman in that room to know that she was beautiful, that she was chosen, and that she could approach her Groom clothed in brilliance because of what He had done for her.

Do you know this of yourself, dear one? You are loved. Oh, how you are loved. Christ desires to draw you unto Himself and clothe you in His radiant splendor. Will you accept the garment He's woven for you with His life? Wrap yourself in this incredible love, and rejoice.
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Monday, November 1, 2010

Tell Me All About It

Drew recently started taking a percussion class at a nearby music studio. It's definitely a "drop your kid off" kind of situation, so after his first lesson I was very eager to hear every single detail about the past hour.

As much as I wanted to know everything, however, I also wanted to respect his need for independence and let him have something that was separate from his mother. So I eased in with the general, "How did it go?" and "How many kids are in your class?" and so on -- all questions that could easily be answered with monosyllabic grunts. (And were.)

My mind wandered to my own childhood. I so vividly remembered my mom's eager questions following camps, retreats and missions trips. She wanted to share in the adventure with me, and I wanted to relive the experience, scooping her into the drama. So I eagerly gave every detail. It eventually became a scripted conversation beginning with Mom's predictable interrogation: "Tell me all about it. What you ate. Who you saw. What you did. How you felt."

We leaned forward, eyes sparkling, and the talking began. After describing every last cinnamon roll that I had consumed, every skit costume that I had donned or every Mexican child that I had piggy-backed, we let the conversation lag. Until she thought of another question. And the talking resumed. (More often than not, the trips also involved my sister. The talking among three women was substantial.)

My mind returned to the snare drum, and I wanted to hear more from Drew. So I ventured to ask more detailed questions. I felt like my mother. "Tell me all about it! What kinds of things did you work on? What is your teacher like? What is every single person's name?" The answers, too, became more detailed and (dare I add) even a tad . . . enthusiastic.

As I asked the questions, I mentally acknowledged that I probably could have figured out most of the answers on my own. I took band for years, and had a pretty good guess of what would be covered in the first day of a music class. But I still wanted to know. I wanted to hear it from his own perspective. I wanted to hear it
. . . from his own heart.

I've realized that I'm a tad like my Father that way. He wants to hear from me, even though He already knows the answers. He wants to hear it from my perspective, from my heart. When I remind myself of this truth, I'm more apt to converse regularly with my Savior. And when I do so, I remember another truth: only good can come of resting in the presence of the Almighty. This is what I want. I want His goodness, I want His presence. I want Him to draw me unto Himself, focus His gaze on mine and warmly invite, "Tell me all about it."
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Sunday, October 24, 2010

Introducing . . .

Bethie has been asking to start a blog for several months now. I'm not one of those moms who automatically says, "Why yes, sweetie!" I need to think, to ponder, to weigh every option with every conceivable outcome.

Growing up, my dad taught me to pull out my pad of paper, draw a line down the middle and label my columns: Pros and Cons. It helped. So this is what I do. Not always literally, but my brain draws that line and I weigh the options.

The only "con" on Bethie's blog list was my suspicion that she liked the idea of it more than the work of it. So I tested her on the practice of finishing a project. She was in the middle of three different books at the time, flitting from one read to the next and ignoring some that she had started months earlier. I assumed my motherly tone and explained the value of finishing what one has started. Take, for example, the pile of novels at her bedside. She was quick to deduce, "So, as soon as I finish these books, I can start a blog?" I agreed. She sat on the family room couch for three days and read. Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm came to a close, and she ended up loving something that she had put off for weeks. (Funny how that happens sometimes.)

So this weekend, I carried out my end of the deal. Introducing, Bethie's blog: Mudpie.

(Now, if you'll excuse me for a few days. I have about three books to go finish.)
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Wednesday, October 20, 2010

And on the Seventh Week, Mama Rested

I opened my planner and sighed. Another week loomed before me. How many more weeks until Thanksgiving? I felt ready for a break. It's been a great year so far, but with percussion and piano and gymnastics and ballet and youth group on top of our regular home studies, I was feeling frantic and spread thin. I wanted to rest, but I didn't know how to. (It's hard to let go of that math, you know. And history is so . . . so . . . chronological. It just keeps coming!)

And then I read an article by Angelina Stanford that introduced a concept to me which breathed renewed strength into my overloaded brain. She suggests using the principle of the sabbath to organize the school year: work for six weeks, then rest for one week. Spreading the 36 week school schedule over a full year with larger breaks for Christmas, Easter and summer ensures that learning takes place intentionally -- and in an atmosphere where even rest is strategically planned and greatly appreciated.

After reading the article, I ran to the calendar. We had just finished week five of the school year. Hmmm. Very interesting. My mind, body and spirit were telling me to rest, and here was that seventh week just around the corner.

When I was given the freedom to approach my year differently (and when I realized that I had just one more week to complete my first six), I dove into that final work week with renewed vim and vigor. It was amazing. We accomplished great things, knowing that our rest was almost here. It was like preparing for vacation. There were loose ends to tie up, assignments to check off, and a school room to tidy.

We did it. And on the seventh week, we rested.

So this week marks our first sabbath week. We entered it with a fairly loose schedule, knowing that there would be a variety of things to include that don't often happen during a normal school week, such as field trips, family projects and appointments.

I've marveled anew this week at God's design for his people. We are made to work, and we are made to rest. He modeled that for us in His work of creation, and our spirits respond deeply to that rhythm. Our time of work enables us to enjoy a time of rest with a deep appreciation for what has been done. In turn, our time of rest enables us to be fully prepared and renewed for the time of work that God has in store for us.

Now a full week off is certainly not always feasible for everyone's schedule. My own sabbath week is quite busy -- the mound of laundry and dinner-eager tummies haven't magically disappeared, and all of those music lessons and gymnastics classes I mentioned keep our eyes darting frequently toward the clock. But it's a different kind of busy -- even a restful kind.

So I challenge you to consider how your own schedule might be tweaked to welcome a time of rest. I was talking with my mom about this idea, wondering how it could be tailored for those with stricter work schedules. She laughed while suggesting that maybe one could take a break from flossing for week seven.

I'd love to hear from you. What are your suggestions for finding rest amidst that hectic whirl? Maybe you could stick a few meals in the freezer, easing up your cooking schedule for a brief time of rest. Perhaps you could shut down your computer for a few evenings, using that time to play Uno with the kiddos.

How might your work for God's kingdom be enhanced by periods of deliberate quiet? Just think! God has amazing things for us to accomplish. Our lives are His. We've been created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. That work is such a blessing. It is for Him that we will accomplish great things, knowing that our perfect rest is just around the corner.

John William Waterhouse's St. Cecilia, 1895. (No, my children do not lull me to sleep with their beautiful melodies as I, the sainted mother, rest in a lush garden. And yes, it sure would be nice if they did.)
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Tuesday, October 12, 2010

{The Amiable Guinea Pig}

One of my favorite authors is Beatrix Potter. I was about to say, "One of my favorite children's authors," but I changed my mind. She's absolutely delightful no matter how old the reader might be. I love to snuggle up with Little Miss Avery Kate and read about Benjamin Bunny in his clogs and tam-o-shanter, the Fierce Bad Rabbit with savage whiskers, and the naughty kittens who sneak out to make "dear little muffins."

If you don't have her books sitting nearby, take a peek at this limerick. It will make you smile. I promise. Better yet, teach these clever words to a child. It's quite entertaining to hear a wee voice say, "amiable."

There once was an amiable guinea pig, 
Who brushed back his hair like a periwig --
He wore a sweet tie, 
As blue as the sky --
And his whiskers and buttons
Were very big.

Avery was four when I first read her this poem. She laughed so hard that we read it over and over and over. It wasn't long before she had it memorized. When she finally recited it to me, I realized why she had been laughing so hard. She understood the last line to read,

His whiskers and buns were very big.

We're still laughing.
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Thursday, October 7, 2010

Dictation Symptoms

I love words. I especially love words that are strung together in perfection. And I really, really love words that are strung together in perfection . . . for the benefit of a child.

C.S. Lewis said:

No book is really worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally – and often far more – worth reading at the age of fifty and beyond.

It has been a joy-filled journey these last twelve years of mothering as I've uncovered dozens upon dozens of books that fall in this category -- books that are written for children, but bring just as much (and probably even more) delight to my soul as well.

One of my children's weekly assignments is to take dictation. As we read various works of literature together, I frequently find passages that take my breath away. Because I want to train my children to appreciate excellent writing, and because I want them to have the ability to put their own words onto paper, I read these noteworthy passages aloud for their little hands to copy. They write the words of the master writers, and their minds learn to anticipate the beauty of a well-chosen phrase, the power of metaphor and the comfort of rhythm. Slowly but surely, these words will become their own, equipping them to one day write with feeling and clarity.

Since we've done this for a while, my children (Drew in particular) are starting to key in on mom's "dictation symptoms." As I'm reading along, I'll suddenly find myself in the midst of a particularly well-written paragraph. I want to savor it. So I do. I ease up on the tempo. My voice softens, my eyebrows lift, my chin rises. The book, too, is raised a tad higher that I may elevate that perfect moment in every way possible. And they know. I blindly reach for the nearest pencil and make a faint check mark in the margin. That clinches it. "Mom? You're gonna have us write that stuff, aren't you?" Why yes, my darling children. I am.

Mother and Daughter Reading by Jessie Willcox Smith
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Tuesday, October 5, 2010


A couple of years ago, as I was weaving in and out of the aisles at Trader Joe's, I was approached by an employee. This is not at all unusual. When I go grocery shopping, I look like a woman in need of assistance. (There was one time in particular when I wasn't even given an option. As I prepared to leave the checkout counter, the cashier said, "T.J. will help you out today." T.J. grabbed my cart. And off I went with T.J.) So anyway, I am accustomed to employees hanging around -- retrieving lost flip-flops, providing colorful balloons, offering lollipops, digging through boxes to find the new shipment of chocolate chips -- you name it.

But this time, I was approached by an employee with a camera. Now, I've always dreamed of stardom. Thankful that I had applied lipstick, I greeted her with a smile and batted the lashes. She smiled back and looked at the four children buzzing around me. "Do you think they would be willing to pose for a picture?" she asked.

My stardom bubble did not burst. It grew. "Why, yes! I'm sure they would," I answered for them. I gave several meaningful nods with raised eyebrows in the general direction of my wee brood. They shrank back in horror. A picture? In public? How humiliating!

I couldn't imagine what was wrong with them and suggested they reconsider. The employee explained that they hoped to use a picture of some kids for a display in the store. Mine were the only kids around -- would they please do it? All they had to do was put on a Trader Joe's shirt and hold a box of cookies. Drew vanished. I wasn't surprised, and I didn't intend to pursue. Avery attempted to crawl back into the womb. She's a very fragile creature. I crossed her off the list.

That left two more. Zeroing in on Bethie and Aidan, I told them how much fun it would be to have their picture up in the store. Once they caught on to the idea, they bashfully agreed. They did their bit of modeling, and were paid in cookies. This was a very satisfactory arrangement in their eyes.

The real thrill, however, came during our next shopping excursion. We checked every aisle for the snapshot, expecting to see it quaintly framed in a little corner of the store. Imagine our surprise when we turned down one of the last aisles to find, perched above the baking section, an entire billboard featuring my peeps. It was glorious.

I'm afraid I was a bit obnoxious as I stood there for quite some time, hoping that passers-by would notice that the lovely children at my side bore a remarkable resemblance to the famous children plastered above the sea salt. "Isn't this fun, Bethie?" I commented (loudly). "Look at you up there!" I added (loudly). "Aidan! Can you believe it?" I marveled (loudly).

I couldn't wait to pass on the big news to friends and family. "Next time you're at Trader Joe's, look for Bethie and Aidan in the baking aisle!" They did, got a kick out of it, and passed on the news to others.

This continued for about two years. Over time, I calmed down and was able to pass through the baking aisle without creating a spectacle. We still glanced up and smiled, but were content to keep our voices at a fairly decent volume.

A few weeks ago, my mom mentioned to a friend that her grandchildren were at Trader Joe's and to be sure and look them up -- er, look up at them. So the friend looked. And looked. And looked. My children were nowhere to be seen. The kind friend mentioned this to an employee, who said that they were making some changes. However, if the mother of the children would like to have the board, she would be welcome to it.

When this news was relayed to me, I immediately thought, "Of course I would like to have it! My babies!" I didn't really stop to consider what I might do with the board. Perhaps put it up in one of their rooms? So the next time I was in the store, I approached an employee about retrieving my children. She was happy to oblige and proceeded to pull down the board. She pulled. And pulled. And pulled. Funny. It didn't seem so big when it was way up there by the ceiling. She kept pulling. Finally, it was out. I immediately dismissed the idea of putting it in Aidan's room. But I was too embarrassed to say, "Oh, never mind." So I assigned Bethie and Aidan each to an end, and out the door, through the parking lot they walked with themselves.

We somehow managed to get it into the van. When we got it home, there was no place to put it. I questioned my sanity. I finally just propped it up against the wall in the entry way. It made a lovely conversation piece for a number of days.

I have since removed my children from the entryway. They are now stored cozily under the living room couch -- a perfect fit. Whenever we want to put together a puzzle, do some major coloring or stack up the dominoes, out come my board children to provide us with a nice, smooth surface. When we're done, back under they go. I sure am glad they fit. It would have been a pity to leave them at the store.
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Saturday, October 2, 2010

I Keep Asking

I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ,
the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation,
so that you may know Him better.
Ephesians 1:17

Father, may I never cease this asking. Draw my heart to your throne in hourly supplication. Would you bless me with the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, that I may know You.

As I minister to my husband, may it be as a wife who has a spirit of wisdom and revelation, that I may know You. As I train my children, may it be as a mother who has a spirit of wisdom and revelation, that I may know You. As I interact with other women, may it be as a friend who has been blessed with a spirit of wisdom and revelation . . . that I may know You.

I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection . . . (yes, that's the easy part) . . . but I ask for strength to also know the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death . . . . (Philippians 3:10).

Yes, Lord, I keep asking. I keep asking not because You haven't heard. I keep asking not because You have forgotten. But I keep asking because You beckon, because You bless. All praise, honor and glory to You, the One who keeps on giving.
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Thursday, September 30, 2010

New Kid

There was a new kid in school today.

He called himself

He was a little intimidating at first,

but he ended up being surprisingly good-natured and docile.

Once he figured out how to use his eyes, he buckled down and got right to work.

I wonder if he'll be back again tomorrow.

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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Oh, Aidan. Further chronicles involving artichokes, a trash can and karate.

The other night I went to check on Aidan while he was taking a bath. He's usually pretending to scuba dive whenever I pop my head in on bath night, and, sure enough, he was submerged and swimming as much as a kid can submerge and swim in a bathtub. The only difference this time was that he had added goggles to his ensemble. Or maybe I should say goggle. I think that's what they're called when there's only one gog. His head surfaced and he squinted through that gog with a bewildered and disoriented look on his face. He must have really been taking his dive seriously.

Indeed, Aidan has a unique outlook on a number of things. I give you the next installment of Aidan's quips and queries.

*The other evening, Aidan asked what we were having for dinner. When I told him we were having Chicken in a Hurry, he was less than thrilled: "So it's a dead chicken and artichoke hearts? I don't like any of those things."

*A recent conversation with dad included the following remark: "I don't think I'd take karate because I don't like getting hit in the face and I like to protect all of my parts."

*The guys were watching a college football game. The marching band at halftime really made an impression on Aidan: "Boy, those guys all sure know their shapes."

*Aidan was feeling a bit under the weather. He asked if I would take his temperature, "'Cause I don't feel awesome, like I usually am." I took his temperature and tucked the sniffly boy in bed. After checking to see that he had a box of Kleenex and a trash can nearby, I prepared to leave the room. He wasn't satisfied. "I feel like I don't have enough supplies." I wasn't sure what more I could offer. He suggested that medicine might help. "I like Tylenol . . . ."

*I found my bedroom trash can in a rather warped state of being after the above mentioned sniffles had run their course. Naturally, I went to Aidan to do some questioning. He confessed, "I wanted to see if it was the kind of metal that was hard or the kind that squishes. It's the kind that squishes."

Stay tuned. I can almost guarantee that there will be more where that came from.
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Sunday, September 26, 2010

My Faith Rests

My faith rests not upon what I am, or shall be, or feel,
or know,
but in what Christ is, in what He has done,
and in what He is now doing for me.
~C.H. Spurgeon~

Winslow Homer's 1873 "Girl in a Hammock"

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Thursday, September 23, 2010

A Very Important Purchase

I finally broke down and bought a new oven mitt and pot holder.

I figured it was about time.

Isn't it funny how we hold on to things? I'm pretty sure I got these at my bridal shower over fourteen years ago. The colors were perfect -- they matched my dishes, my wallpaper border, my youthful, blushing cheeks. I don't recall having another set. I just used them and used them and used them.

Over the years they were slopped on and burned. Finally, they became so threadbare that they weren't functioning as they should. The oven mitt developed a hole right between the thumb and mitten part. I could no longer shove my hand all the way into the mitt and grab the cookie sheet. I had to partially put my hand in and gingerly scoot the tray out of the oven.

I wore a hole clean through the middle of the pot holder. You would think that I would have considered getting a new one. But no. I folded it into a wad, avoided the gaping hole, and used it anyway. I even thought of repairing it. But getting a new one? The thought didn't even enter my mind.

One day, it occurred to me that I might just make a new pot holder. That would be so frugal and earthy of me. I thought about it for many days. Many, many days. Then I forgot all about it. And I kept on using those pathetic rags.

Well, I'm not sure when it finally hit me. Maybe it had to do with the kids starting to use the oven. What kind of mother hands her child a holey rag and says, "Grab that hot pan, please"? Not I.

Now, did I run out and grab the first set I found? Of course not. I started the search. I'm a bit like my mother in this respect. A purchase takes time. We must consider all the options, you see. I didn't find anything that really grabbed me, so I kept on using the rags.

The other day I was at Wal-Mart. On a whim I suggested to Bethie that we go look at the pot holders. I didn't expect to find the perfect set, but figured maybe I could find something to tide me over and save my poor children from being burned.

I stood in that aisle for a really, really long time. You would have thought I was making the most important decision of my life. Suddenly, the hilarity of it all struck me. They were three dollars each. Three dollars, people. It wasn't like I was about to sign my life away. No one was going to force me to use these -- and only these -- for the next fourteen years. If I found something I liked better in a month or a year, I could get them!

Into my cart went the olive pattern. They matched my kitchen and felt kind of Italian. Not a bad combo. But most importantly, they were well padded and completely whole!

I brought them home and placed them on the counter. They looked very stiff and clean. I was afraid to use them. But I cast one last glance at my trusty old pair and realized that it was time to move on. So I did. And guess what? I love my new pot holders.
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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Brown Paper Packages

My curriculum is steadily trickling in. It turned out to be a blessing in disguise that everything has taken so long to get here. We've been able to ease into the school year, slowly adding subjects here and there. I think if I would have gotten all of my materials at once, I would have attempted meeting all subjects head on. On the first day. My poor children. To think!

One of my favorite spots in the school room

But God knew what we needed, and I'm thankful for that. He always does. I'm still waiting for a few boxes. It's rather exciting, really. Every day when we hear the UPS truck enter our neighborhood, four little heads pop up expectantly from their school work. (Make that five -- I'm just as eager.) Maybe it's Drew's spelling book! Maybe it's Aidan's nature reader! Maybe it's Bethie's art paper! Maybe it's . . . all of Avery's curriculum!

Shhhh . . . . Drew is very focused on his art project.

The first time a box arrived I was kind of mean. We were definitely in school mode. The Man in Brown rang the doorbell. We jumped out of our seats. "It's from Rainbow Resource!" Drew announced. Curriculum. My heart raced. And then I became mean mom. "How exciting! Yes, we'll open it . . . as soon as we've finished our work."

I'm not sure why Aidan has a dart on his forehead. And he's usually fully clothed during class.

Bethie looks rather dejected here. Don't worry. This is just her "In the moment" look.

Now, I was just as eager as they were to tear into that box. But I knew that there's nothing like a little incentive to get kids to stay on task. Boy, did those kids stay on task. They finished their school work in record time. I stretched that enthusiasm as far as possible. Once they'd scrubbed the toilets and squeegeed the windows, I gave them the okay. (Not really. I just made them tidy the living room. And the family room. And the school room.) They tore into that box like nobody's business. It was fun.

Avery's haircut. Not that you can tell from this shot, but it's been cut.

As the boxes continued to arrive, I milked my little system. It occurred to me that I could steadily order curriculum for the next fifteen years and thereby guarantee a spotless house.

Books! Books! Books!

Today the doorbell rang again. It was another big box. My babes were up to their necks in grammar and math. Drew lugged in the treasure and confirmed, "Rainbow Resource!" Yelping ensued. All eyes looked to mama. I paused and glanced around the room. Taking in the mess, my first instinct was to devise a plan. But then I relaxed. Plans aren't always necessary. And I heard myself shout, "Let's open it!"

We did. It was fun.
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Saturday, September 18, 2010

Oh, Aidan.

Aidan finds a new use for my tea cozy.

I have dozens of notebooks lying around. A few of them are dedicated solely to my children's quirky phrases and "isms." Lately, Aidan has been on a roll. I wish I could follow him all day with a video camera. He's a funny kid. His comments start out heading in one direction. Then he takes a seemingly sudden detour and finishes his thought with a totally unexpected line. His deadpan remarks kill us. I thought I'd let him kill you today, too.

* One afternoon, Aidan came down wearing my heels. My eyebrows shot up and he explained, "I wanted to see what it will be like when I'm nine." He figured that's about how much taller he'd be in two years. As he wobbled off he assured me, "I'll be more balanced, though."

* Again he approached me one day, out of the blue. He got really close to my face and asked, "How are my freckles comin' along?" (He's really hoping to be blessed with sprinkles like his sister, Bethie, and cousin, Ethan.)

* A little while ago we were pulling out of the parking lot at Ross. I saw a very distressed man wringing his hands and wandering aimlessly. I wanted to help, but felt somewhat uncomfortable since I was alone with the children. When I noticed that he was talking on a cell phone and also interacting with a person parked nearby, I figured he could at least summon help if need be. My help probably wasn't necessary. I explained all of this to the children, wanting them to understand the importance of exercising both compassion and safety. I continued by saying that I might have felt more comfortable helping a woman. I was proud of my gallant Aidan who said he would help a woman, too. His reason, however, left me speechless. "I would only help a woman because a man is smarter than a woman and would know what to do."

Just you wait, 'Enry 'Iggins. Just you wait.
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Thursday, September 16, 2010

{The Dinner Helper -- It Works!}

Every once in a while I stumble upon an idea that helps me maintain that home rhythm that we moms so desperately try to cultivate. My most recent breakthrough is "The Dinner Helper."

First, though, some background. For several years I've used the "helper" system after learning about it from my friend, Darlene. Each child is assigned a day until all the days are taken. (Drew takes Monday and Thursday, Bethie has Tuesday and Friday, while Aidan has Wednesday and Saturday. Little Miss Avery Kate still resides loftily over the Sunday slot. No one has commented yet on the unfairness of this.)

On the child's "day," he is given all of the miscellaneous responsibilities that come up, such as setting the table for dinner or taking out the trash. Not only does this child have the day's responsibilities, however. They are also blessed with the simple privileges that brighten a kid's day, such as choosing the radio station in the car, running an errand with Dad or eating from . . . The Orange Plate. (Hey -- The Orange Plate is a coveted item in our home!).

So anyway, we've used this system successfully for a number of years and tailored it as the kids have gotten older. One of the helper duties we've always used is dinner detail. I was finding, however, that the "helping" wasn't necessarily always . . . helpful. Dinnertime is somewhat frenzied anyway -- pulling together last minute ingredients, fielding questions from the other room, feeling tired and hungry, etc. So I felt even more frazzled when I had to list off all of the things I needed my helper to do. I can multitask, but I'm not Wonder Woman. (I used to think I was, though. You see, my sister and I had these awesome Underoos . . . .)

Instead of freaking out, desperate Normal Woman devised a new plan. I call it, The Dinner Helper Checklist.

This really works, folks! I have posted a chart on the fridge with a very detailed list of Dinner Helper tasks. My helper walks up to the chart, reads what they need to do and they do it. While they're setting the table, I can focus on the soup or the muffins or the salad. I don't need to think or shout out orders. Our responsibilities merge so nicely that dinner gets to the table in a much more pleasant and efficient manner.

Here's a peek at our list:

1. Clear off the table.
2. Fill 6 glasses with fresh water.
3. Make sure each chair has a napkin.*
4. Place 6 forks/spoons at each seat.
5. Ask Mom about condiments.**
6. Help Mom bring plates to the table.
7. Ring the dinner bell!

*I use cloth napkins that the kids can tie around the chair rails.
**This includes all the extras, like salad dressing, sour cream, Parmesan cheese, etc.

I've noticed that giving specific details really helps. (I'm not sure why they have a hard time remembering that there are six of us, but Jamie and I actually get water now that I've posted the number.) I'm thinking I'll also post a diagram of a place setting so they remember where everything goes.

Emily Post's Basic Place Setting

The older ones often help with actual dinner prep, too, which is a lifesaver. Everyone's favorite part, of course, is number seven: ringing the bell.

After dinner, my helper looks at the second list. (All family members are supposed to clear their own place settings, but I've included that as number one in case someone forgets or gets sidetracked. Someone like, oh, say, Little Miss Avery Kate. Or . . . Mom. Yes, it happens.)

1. Clear away plates and utensils.
2. Clear away and rinse glasses.***
3. Put lids on condiments, condiments in fridge.
4. Tie napkins on chairs.
5. Wipe table with dishcloth.
6. Sweep the floor.
7. Push in chairs.

***We keep the kids' glasses in a row on the counter during the day to cut back on extra dishes. They use various jars, all different heights, so they know that the tallest is Drew's and the shortest is Avery's. After meals I ask them to rinse their glasses and put them back on the counter. I pop them into the dishwasher after everyone's in bed.

I've found that not only does this system help my children contribute to the family and develop responsibility, but it also keeps me on track. If they're on number six and ready to bring food to the table, my goal is to have the plates dished up and ready to pass off by that point. It also gives me a sense of shared accomplishment and camaraderie with my child. We can look together at our work and say, "Hey! We did it!"
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