Sunday, January 25, 2015

The Why Behind Reading

I've been thinking a lot lately about the idea that why we read may matter just as much as what we read.

There are so many reasons to pick up a book.

Maybe you want to look intellectual.

Maybe you want to escape for a while.

Maybe someone has you held at gunpoint and they're forcing you to. People are awful like that. Although, really, sometimes I wish that would happen to me. "I'm sorry, honey. You have no clean pants to wear today because yesterday, seriously, all day, babe, this masked man FORCED me to read my novel. He wouldn't even let me put it down to go to eat!"

Maybe you don't want to just look intellectual, but you want to actually be intellectual.

Maybe you're trying to set a good example for your kids.

Maybe your wifi isn't working, and your cable is on the fritz, and housework sounds like a really boring option.

Maybe you want to be armed with a deadlier weapon than your smart phone in case you get attacked by muggers. War and Peace, keep it on your person at all times. But do consider registering it with your local police department.

Alternatively, maybe you want to make sure you have something edible on hand in case you get stranded somewhere without food available. Again, your smart phone won't help you with that.

Maybe your reason for reading one book is not the same as the reason you have for reading another. And maybe the reason you start a book is not the reason you finish it.

Her reason for reading?
It makes her look cool while she hangs out on the stairs.
She likes to live on the edge.

So I've been asking myself why I read. And the answer is legion. Consequently, I thought I'd share with you a few of the books I've been reading lately, and the whys behind them.

A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle: I'm delving into travel writing these days. Mostly because traveling  past driving distance when you have four kids is neither cheap nor stress free. So, while we've been exploring the mess out of our little corner of California, France, for instance, is a little out of our league. That's okay. I can read about the food and the culture and the people, and while it's not quite the same, it's close enough. Plus, I can have a great time doing so because Peter Mayle is a fantastic writer, funny and descriptive and informative all at the same time.

Jesus the King: Understanding the Life and Death of the Son of God by Timothy Keller: Tim Keller has been on my To Read list for quite some time, mostly because a handful of friends that I really respect keep posting Tim Keller quotes as Facebook statuses. Then, last week the kids and I decided to brave a Bible study for the first time since September (now that the twins have consolidated their nap), and lo and behold, they were studying a Tim Keller book. So now I'm reading it because I want to learn something and because I want the community. And also, possibly, because I want cooler Facebook statuses.

Harold's Fairy Tale by Crockett Johnson: Did you know there were more Harold and the Purple Crayon books? I didn't. I adore Harold. If I had to sell one of my children and replace them with another kid, I'd replace with Harold. But only if I had to. That's not a "why" though; that's a rabbit trail. Why? Because I like my kids to read books I actually enjoy reading out loud to them. And I want my kids to be exposed to books that foster their creativity. And Harold fits the bill.

The Geography of Bliss: One Grump's Search for the Happiest Places in the World by Eric Weiner: Ditto the travel writing comment from above, but I've also been really interested in the study of happiness lately (I read The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin around the time we were moving). It was fun sifting through some very fascinating and different ideas about what happiness is and how it is achieved (and where it makes its home). I wrote down more than a few quotations and roped an unsuspecting Man into several book discussions that he lovingly tolerated. He makes me happy in that way. (You liked that, didn't you?)

The Blood of Olympians by Rick Riordan: First, I finally learned how to pronounce that last name (thanks, Blue Bloods!). Second, I admit this book was January's guilty pleasure. I don't allow myself to read novels too often because I get sucked in and don't resurface until the last page has been read. Somehow this is bad for my parenting and housework and marriage and, you know, other things that might actually matter. But I've diligently read almost every single book Rick Riordan's ever written, and when he comes out with his series on Norse mythology, I'm sure I will continue my downward spiral into oblivion. Yay for keeping in touch with my 13 year old self!

May B. by Caroline Starr Rose: True confession, I have no idea why I put this one on hold at the library (some book list, somewhere, I'm sure), but I loved it. It's always fascinating dipping into other forms of writing (May B. is written in blank verse). It gave me some ideas for stuff of my own and that's always a good thing. Also, the Little House books have made that time period so familiar (when we're talking about children's literature, especially) that it was great to see a different take on the Westward Expansion.

George and Martha by James Marshall: George and Martha's quirky friendship was an instant hit with our kids. I read them the entire collection of stories without a second thought. Why? Because Tiny's giggle is the best. And because anything other than Thomas is a joy to my soul.

A little corner of happiness.

Anyway, the point being (once again) that I love books. I love how they stretch and change us. Once I've read a book, it's part of who I am, which is probably why I'm picky about what I read. So if, at the end of the day, my over arching goal is to love the Lord my God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love my neighbor as myself, then I should want to read books that deepen my heart, strengthen my soul, broaden my mind, build up my strength, and help me better understand and love my neighbor.

On the other hand, my neighbor may not be a Greek demigod--although you never know--but my neighbor's potential pre-teen daughter and I can now carry on in-depth conversations about our mutual obsession with anything written by Rick Riordan. Because we all know that fan-girling makes friends.

Monday, January 19, 2015

All Funned Out?

Some breaks are purposeful; some not so purposeful. Really, I should've planned to take off the entire season of Mersmas Etc (my new way of referring to the overwhelming mess of birthdays that start out of this year), but I didn't. We had birthday after birthday after birthday, and my sister here to visit, and then one of my dearest friends for a few days, but now I think we're settling back in to our every day routines and that means bombarding the blog with words, words, and more words. And a few pictures.

So, a few thoughts to get us rolling:

  • 2009: put on 50 lbs while pregnant with the Little Man. 2011: put on 43 lbs while pregnant with Tiny. 2013: put on 48 lbs while pregnant with the twins. 2015: planning an unconventional pregnancy with pie after visiting Coco's Bakery for dinner. I can't predict just how many pounds I'm going to put on before we move away from pie heaven, but I plan to enjoy every ounce of it. Say it with me: dark chocolate chip cheese pie. {All opinions are my own, but if Coco's wants to pay me for my endorsement in pie, I will not say no. I will say yes. Resoundingly.}
I blame Amanda for helping me put on more weight with Littles than I did with both twins.
Too many late night donut runs.
I also blame her and Bee for looking super cute in this picture when my bangs are (of course) in my eyes.

  • Christmas cards? Yeah, I like to make funny jokes every once in a while. We'll see if I manage to get them out before next Christmas. I'm sure the kids won't have changed at all at that point. 
Bee thinks she can read at one. That won't change by two.  See?

  • I've taken a gazillion pictures in the last month, and I'm still weeding through them trying to figure out which ones are keepers. I admit, there are a lot of photos I took on the beach that I had absolutely no idea what I was getting because it was so blindingly bright out there, so I just clicked away and hoped for the best. I ended up with more than a few shots of my legs and a pair of very sandy shoes because I forgot to turn my camera around (Bee likes to take selfies).
This was after all the leg pictures.
Those bulldozers are no longer allowed in the house.
Thankfully, the sand comes off the boys a little more easily…
or I would've left them in the garage too.

  • We started out 2015 by going walking down by the shore after a seaside breakfast of danish and coffee. I have to say, there are few better ways to begin a new year. Fresh air, exercise, good company, a view, and copious amounts of sugar and caffeine: aaaah.
Amanda is climbing in the center;
the Man and Littles are climbing up to join her from the left.
The twins, Tiny, and I stayed off the rocks and took pictures.

  • Blue Bloods. I may be obsessed. There's just something about Tom Selleck's mustache. Also, exposure to Donnie Wahlberg and his former life as a boy bander is teaching me so much about American pop culture that I really missed out on. My college roommate's New Kids on the Block pillow case now has a frame of reference in which to live.
Tom Selleck's mustache supported us through the goodbyes.

  • My boys know how to dish the compliments. Littles: "You make good lemonade, Mom." Tiny: "You buy good milk, Mom." I'm a slave in my kitchen.
Littles asked to go to the aquarium for his birthday.
I got this and one other picture before my phone battery died.

  • One of my ice cream scoops has gone missing. This has led me to engage in a lot of deep questioning about how the life I live somehow involves the need for two ice cream scoops. 
I'm blaming her for the lost ice cream scoop.
She looks suspicious to me.

  • Doggie naps. They are now a thing in our family. Question: are doggie naps longer or shorter than cat naps?
Lego covered tables. Also a thing.

  • I finally figured out the purpose for Thomas the Tank Engine. Evidently the whirring of the battery operated wheels has a hypnotic effect on teething babies. For the first time, Thomas the Tank Engine for the win.
I will run down all the batteries in the house if this will just keep working.
Teething is the worst.
And his squishy cheeks are the best.

  • I know I'm prone to hyperbole, but this may be one of the most beautiful places I've ever lived. This morning we drove down along the coast, watching for whales spouting white plumes against the bright blue sea, looking down at lacy sea foam underneath bridges that span bright green hills--and there I go waxing eloquent. Seriously, though, the Air Force won't mind if we stay here permanently, right? However, however, these west coast whales are very poorly trained. The boys just can't understand why they won't jump out of the ocean on command. Neither can I.
Amanda and Bee had too much fun playing in the waves.
Bruiser and I went for a walk together after I got tired of keeping him from eating
the half chewed crabs the seagulls had left for him.

  • Back to back birthdays use an obscene amount of butter and eggs.
This cake evidently blew Bruiser's mind.

Sharing is caring. Unless you're giving chocolate cake to a dog.
  • After having boy/girl twins, I no longer believe that gender roles are a societal construct. We have a set of play pots and spoons. When Bee plays with them, she stirs, pretends to eat, offers some food to you, and repeats. Bruiser: bashes everything in sight with them.
Photographic evidence.
Regardless, both boys AND girls love IndoMie. Naturally.

Anyway, that's all for tonight. But coming soon to a blog near you: what I'm reading and why. Because sometimes the why is much more important than the what. And continuing stories of the mishaps and mayhem of our family. Of course.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Christmas, Expectation Free

Christmas has come and gone, and I have big plans tomorrow to take down all the Christmas decorations and reclaim our house from the crunchy carpet of fake pine needles and broken ornament shards.

Merry Christmas babies!

This is my favourite time of year. Not just Advent and Christmas and New Year's, but this whole season of celebration. The twins are gearing up for birthday number one; the Man and I celebrate six years of sharing coffee and sarcasm and general marital bliss; Tiny is prepping for the thrilling threes and Littles the fantastic fives. Still, not everything has gone according to plan and not everything ever will.

Exploring some musical instruments African Auntie sent.
This was a brief moment of happiness after which the over stimulation re-instated itself as king.

The buckeyes (supposedly my Christmas treat for the Man) looked like something from a horror film (and said Man had to take over the chocolate dipping so I could let the twins crawl all over me). I forgot to take a family picture on Christmas Eve when we were all dressed up and on our best behavior (which is exhausting). Bruiser spent the Christmas Eve service shrieking happily and had to be taken to the back at which point Bee cheerily demonstrated her ability to yell his name at the top of her lungs. None of us knew his name was in her arsenal of words.  Finally, of course, I had to make a 9.30pm trip to Target for Crisco so I could make rolls for dinner the next day.

Confession: I took this fantastic photo.
I really should just raid the Man's phone for better pictures.

Then on Christmas, Bruiser got over stimulated with the present opening excitement and yowled himself silly until we packed up the whole family and went for a walk (all I have to say about that is he should be glad we're a family that does low-key Christmas). I burned the rolls for dinner. Well, some of them. The rest had to go back in to finish baking. The ham boiled over somehow, and I'm still trying to figure that one out. The twins and the boys played tug of war with the table cloth at dinner. Bruiser skipped his nap. Bruiser expressed himself through biting. Bruiser expressed himself through screaming. Bruiser expressed himself by head butting me in the face.

Why? I don't know. But happiness. Yay.

It's becoming evident who the problem child is. I promise, he is as adorable and precious as he is loud and sleepless. And good gravy, I want to squish him and cover him with kisses.

{picture complements of Littles}
The boys have had fun shooting each other with their new nerf guns.
They are under strict orders to not shoot Mama.
Only the Man gets to do that.
But I will make him pay. With burnt rolls and really bad buckeyes.

Anyway, through all of this, even our Christmas morning pre-coffee adult grumpiness, I thought to myself about two things: one, how wonderful it was to have the Man home this year, and two, how weird it must've been for two year old Jesus when those strange men showed up with non-kid friendly presents for him. Seriously, how does a sinless two year old respond to worship? And why did no one bring him a slingshot? Or at least a ball? Gold, frankincense, and myrrh are what you give for a Bethlehem baby shower, not a two year old's birthday party.

Littles getting artsy with his favourite stocking stuffers.
Oral hygiene is very important to him.

Ahem. Moving on.

The Man can't blame me for this classy photo since Littles took it.

I also forgot to take pictures yesterday (well, I got in a few), but luckily for me, the Little Man knows my phone password and put his intensely photographic eyes to good use. So, while I don't have any pictures to show you of Bruiser wearing his first tie or Bee in her adorable plaid Christmas dress, I can show you really festive pictures of our toilet (kidding, I'm not including that one) and our kitchen (or that one) or our backyard (or that one).

Bee thinking really hard about getting her walk on.
Maybe on her birthday.
{photo credit to Littles}

But on all accounts, it was a winning Christmas. The kids and the Man did me proud, though I told the Man my favourite present was still being able to look out the window and see the ocean. He told me I was welcome, but I'm pretty sure that was my Christmas present from God. Just saying.

And I did take this one. Bee got really into her new books last night.
Stand with the donkey! Slide with the sheep!

Finally, continuing the litany of things that have been not exactly according to plan: our Christmas cards and the pictures books for the boys' birthdays….still in the works. It's okay. We're just letting Christmas stretch out a little bit longer for some people.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Mary and Strong Willed Shooters

Tonight at Advent after reading the story of the angel Gabriel's announcement to Mary:

The Man: Boys, how would you feel if an angel appeared to you and told you that your life was going to change completely?

Little Man: I would tell him NO.

Tiny: I would shoot him with Daddy's gun.

And that, my friend, is Advent with strong willed boys.

Here they are with their strong-willed Mama. Also, note the nice necklace Littles made me.

What's interesting though is Mary's real response: "I am your servant. Let it be to me as you have said."

Christmas twins. Slay me now.

Can I tell you what I would've said if an angel showed up on my front door step with the news that my world was about to be turned upside down?

"Buddy, you've got the wrong girl."

This girl might be up for the job. She's tackling stairs and beginning her career as a pianist. {photo by the Man}
You know why I know that's what I would've said? Because that's what I say pretty much every day about the four little "unexpecteds" (some more so than others) that have dumped my world upside down over the last few years with all the unexpected things they do (the heart attack I got a few mornings ago when I woke up at 3am to find Tiny staring at me, his nose an inch from mine…unbelievable).

Sure, now he's sleeping. {photo by the Man}

It doesn't matter that an all-knowing God gifted me with these kids. Obviously, He over estimated my abilities here. See, somehow this ends up with me pridefully knowing more than God. I'm good like that.

So I'm thinking, instead, about Mary's incredibly humble response. You know what the root of humility is? Understanding who we are in God's eyes.

I can't handle the cuteness. {photo by the Man}

Obviously (again), if I can just see myself the way Jesus sees me, I'd understand why he thinks I'm the one for the job, why He picked me for these kids, this husband, these friends, this life... What a gift Mary had to be able to see herself with God's eyes.

May we all be gifted with such grace so that when God gives us the unexpected, we respond, "I am your servant. Let it be to me as you have said." Instead of my less eloquent, "Buddy, you've got the wrong girl." Or worse, "NO!" and then try to shoot the messenger.

These kids: tried to do the dishes the other day while the Man and I put the twins in bed. {photo by Josh}

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Carpe the Pack Mule!

I have finally achieved my goal of being a pack mule.

Also, I strapped Littles and Tiny to my legs, so I'm a walking tornado of chaos. Kidding. About the extra leg irons, not about the tornado of chaos.

By the way, Bruiser looks stoned in that picture, but he was happy in the next one, I promise. This picture, however, was the one Littles chose for the blog. I'm putting him in charge of images and possibly layout, and plan to hand over all content and editing to Tiny by the end of the year because, you guys, this is just too much for me.

But you know what isn't too much for me now? Everything else. Because thanks to my handy dandy Ergos, I can now strap on both babies and go. And by "go", I mean anything that would've formerly been challenging to do while tripping over a pair of very loud and insistent babies. It's a miracle they haven't fallen into the oven or gotten trapped in the fridge yet. The second you move one baby to a safe part of the room, the other baby moves in for the kill...

Also, now that I'm an Ergo sporting, military mama, I truly fit in here. All I need is a burger from In-n-Out (animal style), and I'll be a true Californian (although does the military wife part negate part of that? I don't know. I'm so confused). But the important part is that now I can one up all the other Ergo wearing moms buying organic produce and sushi at the commissary. Day seized!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

For Love of a Sentence

A well-known writer got collared by a university student who asked, "Do you think I could be a writer?"
"Well," the writer said, "I don't know…. Do you like sentences?"
The writer could see the student's amazement. Sentences? Do I like sentences? I am twenty years old and do I like sentences? If he had liked sentences, of course, he could begin, like a joyful painter I knew. I asked him how he came to be a painter. He said, "I liked the smell of the paint."
The Writing Life by Annie Dillard

A few weeks ago, a friend posted on Facebook saying, "I read today that what you loved to do for fun when you were ten is similar to what you love to do today." 

When I was ten, I'm pretty sure I was in my dress designing phase where I was positive if I could just learn how to sew, I could make gorgeous ball gowns for real live fairy tale princesses. Mom got me sewing lessons. I systematically broke every sewing machine they placed in front of me. Some things just aren't meant to be.

Here we are napping together. Can't you tell?

When I was ten, I didn't like children. I mean, children that weren't me, of course. Does ten count as a child still? I never did that whole babysitting thing. It wasn't in my wheelhouse. Guess what I do now? Oh yeah, lots of children. That's okay. They're cute because they're related to me, so…I guess we'll give that one a pass.

When I was ten, I really liked to read. I mean, really (really) liked to read. And I liked to write. But only if people told me that what I was writing was brilliant beyond belief. I wish I was kidding about that part. But you know what the great part about reading is? No one can tell you you're doing it wrong. It's great. The writing thing? Leaves behind plenty of evidence about whether or not you're stupid.

Bruiser and Bee like to play a hybrid game of tug-of-war and peekaboo with Tiny's pajamas.

Some days I may be a bit on the stupid side. Then I pick reading over writing. It's a smart choice. And then because I feel smarter because of making the good choice to read (and hopefully reading something intelligent), I start to think I may be smart enough to start writing again.

This is a rabbit trail.

I have no idea how much sugar Tiny ingested while we were making Christmas cookies in order to achieve that smile.

Moving on

Last week I read Annie Dillard's The Writing Life (while reading about monasteries in other books) so I've been thinking rather a lot about vocation. Plus, I had a birthday, so I'm spending an inordinate amount of time asking myself what I'm doing with my life.

The obvious answer is, I'm raising four kids (thankfully, the Man and I make a pretty good tag team in this area). But other than that (on the days when there is time for something other than that), what am I doing? I'm reading and writing. It's what I love to do. Someday I hope someone will pay me to do it, but in the meantime, I'm doing what I love and that's it.

We got creative with our icing methods.

Annie Dillard says to:

Write as if you were dying. At the same time, assume you write for an audience consisting solely of terminal patients. That is, after all, the case. What would you begin writing if you knew you would die soon? What could you say to a dying person that would not enrage by its triviality?

So, if you were dying and I was dying this is what I would say to you (not really): I love sentences. I love reading them and I love writing them. Sometimes I even like saying them out loud. So I'm going to spend my time working on sentences--sometimes I may even sentence my children to bed before dessert so that my two worlds will meet.

What do you love? Does it happen to be what you loved when you were ten? Or are you branching out in your old age?

This kid asks to hold my hand just because, wants to take pictures with me, and told his dad that I'm always nice.
So basically he lied. Who wouldn't love that?

Friday, December 5, 2014

Only the Fun Stuff

It's about time for you to catch up on some of the happy that's been happening around here, you know, just a few of the things I would share with you if you were sitting on my couch, sharing a cup of coffee, and getting covered in dog hair and the residue of chaos that coats our home. So, here you go!
  • Bee's pre-sleep reading this week has cycled between truck books, tractor books, and Walt Whitman. Hope she doesn't grow up to be scarred for life.
If the reading material did no damage, her crazy brother might push her over the edge.

  • On a similar note, Tiny brought down a blue bib and a pink bib for lunch today. He was adamant that the pink bib was for Bruiser. I acquiesced to his request. It didn't go over well.

Bruiser's face says it all.
  • I served the kids spice cake and stew for dinner one night this week. I tried to convince myself that was a completely appropriate dinner, but the truth is that I just didn't want to wait to eat dessert.
Technically, this wasn't the night of stew and spice cake, but see how happy the spice cake makes her?

  • Incidentally, when we sat down to eat aforementioned dinner, Littles turned to Tiny, who was bouncing off the walls, and said, calmly: "Let's have a nice Christmas dinner, shall we?"Civilization at its best.
Spice cake requires a death grip.

  • The mealtime hand holding war has been started, thanks to Tiny. He has agreed, grudgingly, to touch fingers with Littles, but that's it. Nothing further.

I think it's because he's been marked by He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named
  • I bundled up the kids this week to go walk in the rain. Because that's normal. Littles dressed himself in his puffy winter coat and a pair of gloves. Again, because that's normal. By the end of the walk he had stripped down to a sleeveless shirt. I will say it again: normal.
We watched Kung Fu Panda with the boys last week. Can you tell?

Everyone loves rain. Except for Bruiser. When he's wearing that hat, he doesn't love anything but anger.

  • Our family officially has a girl. Bruiser knocked the standing lamp over on top of himself the other day, and Bee cried harder than he did.
This has nothing to do with the lamp incident. It goes with the next blurb. And yes, that's Bee wearing Tiny's jacket.

  • Last night we dragged our dinner, both high chairs, and a spare kitchen chair out to the front porch to have dinner in the pitch black fog. All the boys thought this was a great idea. Bee was not so sure. The neighbors are having late night conversations about my sanity. In my defense, I keep forgetting how early the sun sets…and it seemed like fun when Littles and I came up with the plan that afternoon.
In spite of the glazed look in my eyes, we had a good time.

In other news…

Here's what I'm reading: The Cloister Walk by Kathleen Norris (I only have a couple more days until this is due back at the library, so I need to crack down and finish it. There's a lot of food for thought here, though, so I'm wanting to go slow but I already used up my one renewal option!)

And here's what I just read: The Hour Before Dawn by Penelope Wilcox (May I say: lending kindle books may be my new favourite thing ever. Thanks, Mom! May I also say: I didn't intentionally pick multiple monastic books to read this week…it just happened.)

A mushroom palace!

And here's what I'm reading online: The Anti-Hustle (because some of us just aren't made to go and then go and then go some more no matter how intense our scheduling skills may be or how much we are capable of convincing ourselves that we should do everything)

And in case you missed it, here's what I've been writing: Hope and the Helicopter Angel (because we all need a little or a lot of hope right now)

We introduced the boys to White Christmas this week. They are entranced. Naturally.