Tuesday, November 29, 2011

{Study Aids}

Some people listen to lively music while studying and enjoy the banter of nearby students. Others require a cozy, hushed room with a hot beverage in hand. (Can you guess which one is Jamie and which one is me?)

Miss Kate is emerging as an opinionated young first grader, and apparently has a few study requirements of her own. Hey, whatever works, right?

So how about you? Do you focus best with a little white noise or do you prefer silence?
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Tuesday, November 22, 2011


Last night as I lay in bed, the rain pounding its liquid rhythm on the roof, I thought about how long it had been since a little one had tip-toed into our room during the still, dark hours. They're growing. They don't need me in quite the same way anymore. I suppose that means I'm growing, too. Growing into a different phase of motherhood, growing into a new understanding of what my children will need from me down the road.

I drifted off, thinking these things, knowing that Drew, Bethie and Aidan were far beyond the midnight snuggle. But not my Miss Kate. I wondered how much longer she would find comfort in seeking the shelter of our bed, and ached just a bit over the future that would grow her beyond such a desire.

As if on cue, early this morning I saw our bedroom door crack open. A wee figure appeared in the doorway, hesitant and hopeful. My heart soared and I thanked God, even in my groggy state. I pulled back the covers and welcomed the little one, savoring the rosy pink cheeks and fuzzy, pillow-rubbed braids. We drifted back together, this little lady and I, grateful for the shelter we had in each other.

We awoke to the steady rain and, with bleary eyes, smiled at each other. I told her how glad I was that she had come in, and held her in my arms just a bit longer. Because after four kids I'm very aware that those "lasts" slip by too often without our realizing it. The last time we help them tie a shoe, the last time we give them a bath, the last time they shuffle into our rooms for a midnight snuggle.

This week of Thanksgiving, I want to especially treasure those small moments. Those which may very well be "lasts" and those, too, which are firsts. Her first wiggly tooth, her first solo "concert" prepared just for the family. I don't want to miss a single moment, a single blessing.

I pray that you, too, would open your eyes this week to the small things. That you would delight in simplicity and find true peace and comfort in the rhythm of gratitude. Happy Thanksgiving, dear ones!

Mary Cassatt, Breakfast in Bed
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Friday, November 18, 2011

{You Make Me Some Rye?}

Thursday is often my Goodwill day. I drop Drew off at his drum lesson and hop on over to do some thrifty shopping, keeping an eye out for bowls and Christmas books.

Yesterday, as I scanned the kitchen aisle, I was approached by a Russian man, I'm guessing in his late sixties. He motioned toward the baking dishes, "You like cook?"

I nodded. "Yes, but mostly I like to bake."

"Ahhh! What you like to bake?" he continued, with a strong accent.

"Well, I like to make cookies, muffins, bread . . . ."

He jumped on the last one. "Bread? What kind?"

"Well . . . " (I'm not accustomed to random conversations with strangers taking much longer than a sentence or two.) "I make whole wheat . . . French . . ."

"You make rye? It's healthier."

"I've never tried making rye . . . but I did just look at a recipe for it this afternoon . . . " (It was an uncanny coincidence. We're studying Russia in history right now, and I had just looked up recipes for borscht and rye.)

The conversation took an interesting turn when he lit up, revealing more than one missing tooth, and requested, "You make me some rye?"

I stammered. "Oh . . . um . . . I don't know . . . ." (I'm not at all accustomed to random conversations with strangers that take longer than a sentence or two and involve me making them a loaf of rye.)

I smiled, said something non-committal and evasive (I don't recall just what it was -- likely it was unintelligible) and motioned that I'd be looking at the next aisle over.

Rye Guy was not to be put off so easily. He rounded the corner in hot pursuit. "You make me some rye? How you like this?" He lifted a unique piece of pottery for me to observe.

I stammered. (Do you see a pattern here?) "Oh . . . that's nice . . . I'm not sure how I'd use it, though . . . ."

"Put cookies! You make me some rye?"

Again with the stammering. I glanced at the clock. "Well, I need to be going now to get my son. Enjoy your shopping!"

He smiled and followed. "You make me some rye?"

There were a number of other things he said, but I couldn't understand. One thing was clear, however. He really wanted that rye.

My mind raced, and I was so painfully aware of my inability to think on the spot. What does one do when approached by a rye-craving Russian? I've not been prepared for this scenario. My mother taught me to shout the Word of God at anyone who approached me with evil intent, but she didn't teach me how to handle the Rye Guy. He wasn't rude or belligerent. He just wanted him some rye.

I finally worked my way out of the store, smiling and wishing him a nice shopping trip accompanied by other stammered, evasive phrases. He raised his hand in one last attempt, "You make me some rye?"

When I finally got home, I told my husband the story. What was I supposed to do? Get his address and make him some rye? It seemed strange. He didn't appear to be needy or hungry. Jamie, tactful as ever, knew right away what he would have said to the guy: "Are you serious? You really want me to make you some rye? That's weird."

Now, I'm sure he wouldn't have said it outright. But he probably would have pursued the conversation a bit more to figure out if this guy actually expected to be presented with a loaf tomorrow morning.

My mind has been racing with the possible scenarios. I wish I had been a bit more bold in finding out exactly what he hoped for me to do (beyond the obvious making of the rye). I'll probably never know. Unless he's haunting the baking aisle next Thursday, still hoping for some rye.

So what would you have said to the Rye Guy? Really. I want to know.
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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

From the Journal

"You must present as the Lord's portion the best and holiest part of everything given to you." (Numbers 18:29)
I read in the morning light, my eyes still trying to stay open. The fire flickers (I'm thankful for the effortless gas fireplace) as I pull my robe tight and curl my legs up on the couch. The verse jumps from the text. Yes, it's a message for the Levites. But isn't it a message for me, too? To present the best and holiest of everything that has been given to me?

I've been given so much. So, so much. Yet I hoard it. I want to stay comfortable. I want it all to be predictable. I don't want to hurt, I don't want to do anything that might prove that I'm not capable or knowledgeable or . . . perfect.

So I hold on and keep it all neat and tidy and manageable. With clenched fists, I timidly raise it to God (because that's what I'm supposed to do) and say, "Here! I love you! Oh, and thanks for not asking too much of me!" And I go back to my comfortable routine.

This I call my "best and holiest."

But what if the best and holiest part of me is actually the most broken part of me? What if, by offering my vulnerability and my inadequacy and my insecurity to the Lord, what if in that I am giving Him my best? Isn't that where Christ does His most amazing work? In the brokenness? In the deepest part of my ugliness?

I can't offer one single holy thing. But I can offer brokenness. Boy, can I. I can offer open-handed, transparent, honest brokenness. And He covers it with the ultimate sacrifice and calls me clean and yes, He calls me holy. Set apart. Sanctified.

I offer Him my best and holiest. It's ugly, but it's just what He wants. I lift my hands and give.
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Monday, November 14, 2011

Fall Haiku

Bethie has been reading Little Women this month. I'm thrilled to my absolute very core. It's one of my most favorite books, and I'm delighted that she's loving it too.

Now, to read Little Women is to become a Little Woman. It's impossible to hear about the antics of the March sisters without taking part. This means that Bethie is currently working on a play (to be performed on Thanksgiving) and producing a family newspaper (complete with contributors named Snodgrass and Pickwick).

Did I mention this thrills me to my very core?

Tonight at dinner, Bethie suggested that anyone in the family could contribute to the newspaper. Submissions are welcome! We thought a theme might be nice to give writers a bit of a framework. So we went with the most obvious theme: Fall. Which, naturally, led me to blurt out, "I know! Fall Haiku!"

We sat around the table, each attempting to compose our own Fall Haiku poems. (I still can't believe that Jamie is able to flawlessly compose Haiku without counting on his fingers. But it's true. He can.)

So far, Jamie, Aidan and I are the only ones who've submitted Fall Haiku for the paper. See if you can guess whose is whose. I know it will be a challenge.

Submission #1:
Autumn is now here
Dad is very sad today
Make it go away

Submission #2:
Fall is here today
They are potato chip leaves
Autumn, autumn, yeah!

Submission #3:
Scarlet, amber, drift
silently, carpet the earth
With their vibrant hues.

And I just stumbled upon this unfortunate contribution:

You are super gross
You like to burp and toot, too,
So I don't like you.

Although I'm somewhat heartened to see the 5-7-5 in tact throughout this piece, I do have some investigating to do.

Do you have a Fall Haiku to contribute? If so, please share! It's sure to land in a very distinguished column alongside Snodgrass' riveting (though somewhat plagiarized) tale, "The Masked Marriage."

P.S. But the real question in this: Can you Haiku without counting on your fingers?
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Saturday, November 12, 2011

Four New Things

When it comes to change, I'm a bit reticent. I tend to stick with the familiar and very rarely branch out beyond my little comfort zone.

But this week, I not only did something new, I did four somethings new. I'm not sure what's come over me. Please tell me if I'm getting too wild.

My new things include:

1. A new drink at Starbucks. I'm not much of a coffee drinker. And I get all nervous and weird at the counter, so I tend to just stick with the one I know and blurt out, "Tall decaf mocha!" (and then, almost apologetically) " . . . with half a shot . . ." 'Cause, you know, I'm not much of a coffee drinker.

Well this week I met a friend for coffee. The gentleman in front of me was taking quite some time, so it gave me ample opportunity to read the board and slowly analyze my options. When it was finally my turn, I boldly announced that I would like to try something different. I got really crazy and ordered a tall caramel mocha. Not just a regular old mocha. A caramel mocha. Aren't you proud of me? And guess what? It was super yummy. I think I like coffee now.

2. A new friend. Yesterday the kids came bursting into the house with letters in hand. Real letters, from the mailbox. I had one, too. It was from a dear friend in Alabama. A friend whom I've never actually met. We "met" through homeschool blogs and thought it would be fun to pair off our kids (and ourselves) as pen-pals. It was absolutely delightful to open the page and see the script of a friend, to hear about her cozy life and home, and to realize that she probably has a delightful southern accent. I'm so jealous.

3. New walking music. When I was sure that Drew was within earshot the other day, I gently hinted rather loudly that I might like to borrow his iPod while I walked. He was happy to oblige and quickly filled me in on the shuffle and artist and song buttons that I'd need to use. (I'm lost when it comes to such things.)

I skipped out the front door, eager to listen to new music. The first was a Phil Wickham song, which I love, but it wasn't great for walking. I shuffled and somehow landed on Queen's "We Will Rock You." Not quite what I had in mind, but it ended up being kind of fun to walk to.

The only problem with walking to music, however, is that I have an irresistible urge to walk in time to the beat. I had to really concentrate on walking normally, because I was pretty sure that walking to the rhythm of "Boom, boom, smack! Boom, boom, smack! We will, we will rock you!" might look a bit strange.

I found that it was most difficult to maintain my pace when I shuffled my way to "The Pirates of the Caribbean." That Black Pearl theme? So, so great. One of the best music scores. But. Written in three-four, it works a bit better for waltzing, not so much for walking briskly through the park. While trying to shuffle a strange iPod. And just about screaming when a girl zips by on her bike, scaring me half to death. Because I couldn't figure out how to shuffle. And I was starting to experience motion sickness. Because I was walking and shuffling and trying not to waltz while looking down at the thingy-ma-jig.

I finally made it home and probably listened to about five whole songs. I'm pretty sure that Drew was very impressed to see me walking through the door with Queen playing once again. "Did you really listen to that, Mom?" I nodded with a glint in my eye and charged into the room, "Boom, boom, smack! Boom, boom, smack!"

4. A new haircut. It's true. I actually did it. This is a big one for me. I usually go for a really, really, really long time without a cut. Like (blush) . . . a year. And then I think of a zillion other things I should probably spend the money on. But last night, I went and did it. And it felt so good. A weight was lifted, both literally and emotionally. I love my hairdresser. She blessed me and ministered to me and gave me a great cut. I feel like a new woman. I might even go back before a year is up. Talk about living on the edge.

Four new things in one week has me pretty wiped out. That's quite a bit of change. But good change. In fact, I might be open to branching out even more in the future. Maybe you could give me some pointers? Let's start with coffee. Any recommendations? 'Cause I might want to try something new. In a year.
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Thursday, November 10, 2011

A Beautiful Mess

I'm getting tired of my hair. It desperately needs to be cut, but when do mamas have time for such things? So I toss it into a ponytail. Again. And we race out the door to get the kids to their swim lessons.

When they're finally splashing and stroking and bobbing, I plop into a chair and enjoy the thirty minutes of just sitting. I pull out a book and slowly digest a chapter, looking up often enough to give dozens of thumbs-ups and a-okays and air claps. With a very wide grin. Because that's what mamas do.

The thirty minutes go by too quickly, and I tuck the book back into my purse. As I prep towels for little bodies, I hear a voice behind me and turn to see an aging gentleman shuffling my way. He points and comments, "I was sitting behind you. You have such beautiful hair!"

Stunned, I thank him. Beautiful? It's too long. I haven't done anything but toss it carelessly back to get it out of the way. I'm relieved that I finally made an appointment for Friday to tame the unruly mess.

And he calls it beautiful.

It causes me to ask the obvious of myself. How often do I fail to see the beauty and instead call it a frustrating mess?

When Aidan asks to serve the cream of wheat and it glops all over the counter, I cringe at the mess. But isn't it really a beautiful moment? This child wanting to be independent and helpful?

When Miss Kate marches into the room all ready for the day in striped socks, a plaid skirt, a floral top and feather boa, do I see chaos? (Yes!)

But it's beautiful. She's being creative and colorful and vibrant. It's who she is. And that healthy expression of self is beautiful.

When Drew practices away at the drums with music blaring and siblings vocalizing, there's plenty of discord and the beats don't always land right where they should.

But it's beautiful. He's learning to do something he's passionate about and inviting his brother and sisters along for the ride. The mess is answered prayer, really. It's a purpose and a passion and a pursuit. Which is exactly what a thirteen-year-old needs.

Bethie scribbles away at a script and there are princes and princesses and gypsies and dungeons. (Yes, she's been reading Little Women.) The costumes collect, her mind is distracted and she would much rather memorize her lines than focus on her math. It doesn't fit with my schedule for the morning. It's not on the checklist.

But it's beautiful. Her mind is coming alive with characters and settings and she can't wait to perform it for Thanksgiving and, well, she reminds me a lot of myself.

Puddles drip around wiggly pruned feet. I wrap the children in their towels. They can't stand still and they ask if I saw them jump in the six feet and if I saw the way they kicked and dove and splashed. And I know they weren't perfect and that they have a long way to go. But I say, "Yes! You were great!" Because they were great. They were beautiful.

We head toward the showers. The man shuffles away. And I, too, feel beautiful.
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Tuesday, November 8, 2011

When Mama Forgets the Fruit

Bedtime was rushed and frazzled. It's probably the worst time of the day to rush a little person (if indeed there's ever a good time to do it).

Little spirits need nurturing and quiet and peace at the bedtime hour, not a nagging mama who can't wait to close the door on a long day.

But sometimes mamas still nag and fret. Because that minute hand has already passed the hour and precious sleep is being lost and that means a cranky tomorrow morning which means a difficult school day. And who wants that?

So Mama borrows trouble from tomorrow and rushes the prayer with her son. She gets irritated when she's interrupted by another child who storms into the room wondering if shower gel is the same as shampoo. The frustration mounts, Mama forgets Who she's talking to and prematurely cuts off the prayer with a snapped Amen.

The listening boy is still and quiet. That's not how Mama's supposed to pray. He gently whispers the truth, "Mom, you forgot the fruit of the Spirit."

It's true and it hurts. Not only did she forget to pray the fruit over her child, but she grossly forgot to live it before him. And he noticed.

But guess what Mama read just that morning? She read in Numbers 14:18 that "The Lord is slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion." And she is so, so thankful.

She tiptoes back to her boy's room and asks for a redo. "Honey? Can I pray with you again?"

His face beams. It's noticeable, even in the darkness. He's more than willing. And this time, Mama doesn't forget the fruit.

A Child's Prayer by Jessie Wilcox Smith
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Saturday, November 5, 2011

Why November Fifth is Special

Did you know that pumpkins can be carved after October 31st? It's a fact. We proved it just this afternoon.

I shall begin by admitting that I tend to be a bit of a procrastinator. This year, October was rather busy (you know, all that sitting I had to do), so the whole pumpkin thing kept getting pushed back and back until it somehow accidentally became November. Oops.

My dear children know that their mother is a procrastinator. So it didn't seem at all strange when, on the first day of November, I agreed to the idea of picking up some pumpkins. They were thrilled. (The children, not the pumpkins.)

You can imagine their disappointment, however, when we arrived at the local farm fifteen minutes after they had closed. Bummer and rats.

So I was relieved to drive by the farm early this morning and see that there were still several bins of pumpkins left over.

I passed this precious bit of information on to my obliging husband, and by late afternoon our children found themselves merrily digging through muddy pumpkins at a mostly deserted pumpkin patch.

That sounds rather pathetic. But believe me, they were pleased as Punch.

When we got home, they scooped and carved as though it was perfectly normal to scoop and carve on November 5th.

They roasted the seeds as though it was perfectly normal to roast seeds on November 5th. In fact, I'm snacking on seeds right now, as though it's perfectly normal to snack on seeds on November 5th.

And guess what? Kid pumpkins look just as cute on the mantle whether it's October 31st or November 5th.

I think that's one of the great things about being a mom. Because moms can make any day special. Even November 5th.
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Tuesday, November 1, 2011

{A Lovely Surprise}

I lied. I'm posting today. Although that doesn't really make me a liar, because I did say I would post if something noteworthy occurred.

And guess what? Something noteworthy has occurred. I just found a yellow bowl on my front porch. A dear, sweet reader, who learned of my fondness for vintage Pyrex (and my terrible habit of breaking bowls), just quietly, secretly slipped it right there in front of my house. For me. Wasn't that lovely?

I walked back into the house, a smile on my face. The song playing on the girls' CD player was the Newsboys' "Something Beautiful." Which, of course, made me cry. Smiling, crying. Yep. That's me.

Thank you, my dear friend. I feel loved. Can you see me? I'm still smiling.
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