Tuesday, May 27, 2014

{Tuesday Tip: The Bag Switch}

Often, when I'm scrambling to get out the door (especially on a Sunday morning), I'll have the girls help switch purses for me. They know to grab the essentials from one bag and toss them into another, thus helping us pile into the car that much more quickly. At least, that's the goal.

I'm not sure why it took me so long to figure this out, but it finally dawned on me one day that it would be much easier to transfer a whole bag of essentials rather than the individual items (which usually meant that I was bound to forget something). The bag trick also makes it much easier on the girls, should they be the ones helping me with the transfer. (No more, "Did you remember my lipstick? I think it's in the side pouch . . . no, the other side pouch . . .")

When my sister and I were in Slovenia visiting Johnny and Brooke last fall, I found the perfect little bag. It's small enough to fit in most of my purses but large enough to fit the essentials. I'm sure we all have a different list of "essentials," but this is mine: lipstick, pen/pencil, travel Kleenex, hand sanitizer (or "handzitizer," as my niece calls it), lotion, lip balm, Altoids, mirror, keys (for which Aidan fashioned a lovely, Seahawks-inspired  rainbow loom ornament) and a few hair pins. That's about it.

So when we're racing out the door and I need to switch purses, I just transfer the bag and my wallet and I'm good to go. (The bag also contains a little card holder in case I want to leave my wallet behind, too.) And, as long as my tea is ready, I just might get to my destination on time.

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Thursday, May 22, 2014

{A Day in May}

May just does something to me. As the earth warms and the end of the school year approaches, I long to combine the sunshine with the sums and the breezes with the books. Often this means that we pack a bag of school books, a lunch, and a picnic blanket and walk down to the small neighborhood park.

Tuesday found us doing just that -- swapping the school table for a carpet of green grass. It was impulsive, as such decisions often are. We had started our morning assignments, and I was inspired. "Hey! Let's finish our morning work and head over to the park for lunch and afternoon reading!" No arm twisting was necessary.

After we stuffed bags with food and books, we were ready to head out the door. I looked down at my attire and shrugged. We probably wouldn't see anyone there. Sweats and a t-shirt, a hat and no makeup . . . no big deal. I realized my sunglasses were in Jamie's car, so I grabbed another pair instead. My ginormous backup pair that makes me look rather like a bug. A bluebottle fly, to be precise. Thus clad, we made our way to the park.

It was serene and lovely. A couple of small children were clambering over the bars, their mother quietly tending to a younger sibling. We made our way toward the back of the park, along the water's edge so we could read without being disturbed. Lunch came first, after which I told the kids they could play for a few minutes before we did our reading together.

While they played and explored, I lost myself in my latest issue of Victoria magazine. The lovely pages and the warmth of the sun lulled me to a place of peace that I hated to disturb. But I finally corralled Aidan and Avery, who were eager to hear the next chapter of The Four Story Mistake. After our chapter, I glanced over at the stack of math books and shrugged. They could wait. "Why don't you guys go play for a bit? Just don't go back near the water, please -- it's pretty yucky and stagnant right now." Again, no arm twisting was necessary.

The temperature was absolutely perfect -- just about 73 degrees -- and I found myself growing drowsy in the blanket of delightful warmth. I decided to lie down on the picnic blanket for just a minute, to savor the blue sky overhead, dotted with the occasional fluffy white cloud. My eyes closed and I took in the sounds around me. A bee working busily nearby, a red-winged blackbird darting up from the sedges, a dog barking in the distance.

I don't think I fell asleep. But I can't be quite sure. I eventually pulled myself out of my reverie and decided to look for my children. I peered over the bushes toward the playground equipment. I saw a number of children and adults that hadn't been there before (maybe I did doze . . .) but no sign of my children. Then I looked near the edge of the marsh and saw their discarded shoes and socks. The stinkers!

I staggered to my feet, the heat growing and my sleepy head feeling rather disoriented. I scanned the brush and trees, wondering how on earth they could disappear into such a small area of woods. "Aidan!!!" I shouted. No answer. I called again, louder, "Aidan!!!" I wasn't quite ready to panic, and I was angry at the thought of them disobeying. And then I heard a voice behind me. "Yeah, Mom?" They came running from the playground equipment.

Of course I was relieved and felt silly for doubting them. "Oh! I didn't see you guys over there! Did you have fun?" They did, and scrambled back into their shoes and socks (which apparently had gotten "just a little bit wet, Mom," before I had made the marsh off limits.)

We were ready to head home by this time, so we collected our things. I promised chocolate shakes when we got back, hoping the incentive would soften the blow that math was still to come. My head was still loopy from the drowsy heat as we pulled our possessions together and ambled laboriously toward the main park area. I passed one of the mothers who looked at me quizzically from her perch on the bench. "Were you over there?" She pointed toward the bushes where we had picnicked.

It was at this point that I regretted wearing such frumpy attire. It was at this point that I especially regretted wearing my beer shirt. (Let me explain. Jamie and I had gone to Buffalo Wild Wings to watch one of the Blazer playoff games. I somehow "won" a free beer t-shirt . . . mostly because it was a woman's shirt and I happened to be the right size. I gingerly accepted the gift, figuring I'd wear it to exercise or clean or something. Or go to the park, apparently.)

I smiled sheepishly. "Yes . . . we had a picnic blanket spread out . . . ." I looked wistfully toward the trees.

"Oh, good!" She replied. "I thought I saw someone lying down and I was hoping they were okay!"

From behind my enormous, buggy sunglasses, under the shady brim of my hat, I assured her that I was just fine and thanked her for her concern. I cringed when I pictured myself staggering to my feet behind the bushes, searching and calling for my missing, shoeless children in the woods . . . who were actually behaving like nice little children on the bars . . . with my shirt declaring, "For the love of beer."

I thought it best to just head on home.

My children raced ahead, and when I finally entered the house behind them I was glad to drop our load of stuff and feel properly oriented once again. I got the chocolate shakes started and prepared the children for the truth: it was time to do math. They actually took the news fairly well and simply asked if they could work together. So I handed them their shakes and worksheets and we got to work.

I was feeling quite myself again. It was clear that Little Miss was in rare form, however (perhaps not so rare?). Maybe the heat was getting to her, too. She asked me to correct her math page. I didn't get far before I had to call her to make a correction.

The problem read, "The cost of the doughnut is 45 cents. Mrs. Baylis paid for the doughnut with a one dollar bill. How much change will you give her?"

Her answer? "None because she said keep the change."

Like I said, May just does something to me. Apparently it does something to my daughter, too. And the only beverages consumed that afternoon -- I promise -- were chocolate shakes.  

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Tuesday, May 20, 2014

{Tuesday Tip: Be Sentimental}

I don't want to force you to be sentimental, but there's something whimsical about letting one's mind wander to the past to dwell there (with rose colored glasses, of course) for a moment or two.

On Mother's Day it seemed fitting to my sentimental self to use my grandmother's china for our brunch. Have I told you the story about how it came to be mine? Let me tell you. Several years ago, after both of my maternal grandparents had passed away, my mom and aunt were going through their home, sorting possessions and reminiscing. They came across a very carefully packed and labeled box (my Noni was a devoted labeler), and when they opened it, they were in for a surprise.

So was I, but I didn't know it until a few months later on my birthday. A large package was placed before me and with it a card with my grandmother's handwriting: "This set of dishes to be given to our first grandchild that gets married. Packed: Sept. 1977." I was two. And I ended up being the first one to marry.

It was overwhelming and extremely touching to picture her adding to the set, wondering who would end up using it. She never knew. I was only eight when she died. (Although I do like to think that she gets a glimpse every now and then of her great grandchildren eating Sunday scones on the pretty white plates and sipping tea from the dainty, silver-rimmed tea cups.)

Because it was Mother's Day, I couldn't stop with just one burst of sentiment. I had to include as many grandmothers as I could. So I whipped out another tea cup, this one given to me by my paternal grandmother -- my Nanee, whom I am blessed to see about once a year -- and placed it above my plate. Jamie's grandmother left us a set of crystal goblets that we included, adding a sparkling charm to our brunch. I was surrounded by a sweet, quiet heritage of maternal pride and elegance.

It was special to point these things out to my children, as I often do. To say, "Let's use the Noni china" or "How about the Grandma Fern glasses today?" To add a history to each piece, to keep the names special and familiar, even with those whom they never met.

We don't need fancy items -- or any items at all, really -- to be sentimental. We can bring up stories and memories as our children grow and "become." Even today, as Aidan took apart a fan to clean it (for fun, curiosity, and just because he likes to help) I said, "You remind me so much of your Papa when you help me like that, Aidan!" I was linking his actions to a hero, to a heritage that I want him to be proud of and one day pass on to his own children.

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Thursday, May 15, 2014

{Open Windows}

"Do you wanna hear me play?" She shouted out the open living room window at her friend across the street. Both girls knew it was bedtime. Maybe just a song or two? 

She sat at the piano, recital music scattered and worn. Her friend, an eager audience, sat in her own front room, window open, ready for the concert.

The familiar strains filled the house (loudly, to accommodate the distant listener). She's been practicing for months -- one of her favorite things to do. (I'm not kidding.) At times she breaks into "Let it Go," just for fun. (I'm guessing I'm not alone in this experience?) And many times she plays the one that really gets me: "I Surrender All." 

As she played the hymn for her friend, I thought of the words. All to Thee, my blessed Savior . . . . I watched my Little Miss play with feeling and the sweet, self-conscious proficiency that rises to the surface when there's an audience.

I thought of her friend, sitting at her open window, soaking in the melody, likely not familiar with the words. Perhaps not even familiar with the Savior.

And I thought of that house. The tumultuous years with sketchy neighbors. The house everyone avoided but kept a close eye on until the cops finally cleared them out. It sat vacant for months and months. We watched. We prayed. We wanted new neighbors. We wanted the right neighbors. 

Not perfect neighbors, but "right" in that we asked God to handpick the people who would eventually settle into our community. Maybe it would even be a family.

It was. The house was completely remodeled and filled with a family of five. The kids held their breaths. Maybe they're close to our ages? They are. And, thankfully, they appreciate piano recitals.

Little Miss finished her songs and the windows closed with farewells for the night.

This morning, as I sat in the front room with the sun's rays and a cool breeze spilling through the open window, I heard a little voice. "Hello? Hello?" I looked up from my tea and Bible and peered out the window. I didn't see anyone. The voice came again. "Hello? Hello!!!" And then a little flash of color as the four-year-old sister popped into view at her open front window. She popped away again before I could wave, but she was there again tonight. I waved and smiled. She shyly waved back -- her tiny head barely visible above the sill -- and the curtains fell.

I pray that the windows stay open. I pray that the friendships continue to blossom. And I pray, as our yard fills almost daily with at least half a dozen neighborhood children, that our family will live a chorus of beautiful surrender. 

All to Thee, my blessed Savior. I surrender all.

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Monday, May 12, 2014

{On Her Knees}

She knelt before me last night, deftly folding the hem with pins in her mouth. (It's next to impossible for me to find jeans that are the right size.) As I stood before the mirror and tested the length, we were both pretty quick to notice. We've done this before.

How many times have we done this over the course of my life? How many times did I stand on the kitchen table in a gingham dress while she measured and pinned that final hem as I slowly twirled on my sticky, bare feet? How many times did we stand before the mirror in her bedroom as she pinned and tucked and gathered and pressed my prom dress? My wedding gown?

How many times did my mother kneel for me?

My mother has spent hours on her knees. Tending and washing, mending and playing. She knelt when my sister and I invited her to play Barbies with us. She scooped that Barbie up, dressed her magnificently, and made her walk just like a real person and we were in awe.

She knelt when the three of us had the flu, when we had chicken pox, when we had lice. She knelt with us as we leaned weakly over the "sick bucket" and she knelt as she scrubbed our hair and bandaged our knees and gave our Cabbage Patch dolls eyebrow-penciled "chicken pox" on their own chubby faces so we could be matching.

She knelt when we asked her to trace our bodies on the sidewalk with chalk and when we played hopscotch in the dirt while camping.

But her knees never seemed to get tired. Never worn.

I suppose God gives mothers something magical in their knees. Something that allows them to bend and tend without breaking because that's where He needs them to be.

He needs them to be on their knees. And as mothers continue to grow and tend and learn and seek, they realize that that's right where they need to be. Where they want to be.

And so mothers kneel. Sometimes with a desperate, heavy weight because there's nowhere else to go, sometimes of their own accord because they just know. Sometimes in grief and sorrow, sometimes in humble worship and adoration.

I turned in front of the mirror and nodded. Yes. The hem was just right. Just where it needed to be.

We packed up the kids after a day filled with Mother's Day adventures and said goodbye. And I knew that my week, too, would be filled with opportunities to be on my knees, just like my mom.

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Tuesday, May 6, 2014

{Waging War}

I set my foot on the path and stepped into the sunlight, hoping an afternoon walk would clear my mind of the busyness and emotional stress it had been under for days. Normal days, but the weight has a way of pressing down at times -- decisions, questions, doubts, delays. 

Breathing deeply, my pace was slow at first. My senses had become numb, so I asked the Lord to awaken my spirit.

Lord, show me beauty.

As soon as I looked up, a host of purple irises danced before my eyes, their bold faces reaching confidently toward the sun. I moved on, and again my eye caught the purple -- this time a merry bed of bluebells. My pace quickened as I continued to see the purple splashed throughout the neighborhood. The lilacs, the periwinkle, the rhododendrons and over and over again, the irises.

I wondered over the significance of the purple. Ah, yes. Royalty. And then the reminder from my King, "I am King over all. Over your schedule, over your emotions, over your fears and doubts and questions, over everything within your control and over everything beyond your grasp. I am King."

Allowing my mind to develop the story, I was swept from the pavement into another world. At first my King was seated majestically on His throne and I found joy in being the demure, pampered princess, robed in beauty. But no sooner was I delighting in my palatial home than I was swept onto an intense battlefield, my ivory, floor-length gown sullied and torn, hair streaming in the wind, eyes frantic. I held a weapon in my hands -- a stone-encrusted sword -- and the enemy advanced from all sides. But that sword! It was too heavy. The tip of it dragged across the battlefield as I desperately clutched the hilt, begging for strength to lift my weapon and fight.

Almost immediately, my King was at my side. This time, King Jesus was not seated on His throne but astride a powerful white horse, His own gown dipped in blood. The epitome of awesome rage, fury and glory, He swept me up in one strong, jealous grasp. I dropped my sword and clung to His chest as His horse reared. He didn't require a sword. The enemy was already silenced in defeat at the sound of His Name.

We were still on the battlefield. But I was at peace.

My feet touched the pavement once more, and I turned toward home as yet another chorus of purple irises greeted me, triumphant and victorious.

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Thursday, May 1, 2014

{Happy May Day!}

I was swept back to my childhood once again as my little elves busily created and stuffed their May Day baskets this morning.

Once the baskets were assembled, the elves ran stealthily from door step to door step, giggling and whispering, knocking and running.

They were greeted with waves and hugs, some of them from the very same neighbors who waved and hugged my sister and me as we made very similar deliveries, once upon a time.

If you don't live in our neighborhood, we leave this virtual basket on your virtual doorstep (complete with a giggle and a hug), wishing you a very Happy May Day!

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