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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