Monday, December 19, 2016

Grace for the Grieving

Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem and cry to her... 
Isaiah 40:1a

A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are no more.
Jeremiah 31:15

We think of Christmas as a time of joy--and it is--but I think sometimes we confuse joy with happiness. Consequently, some of us get lost around this season because we don't "feel" the Christmas spirit, we don't feel happy. Sometimes this is simply because we are grieving, and we wonder how our grief fits with the joy of Christ's birth.

We see the happy little nuclear family, the baby safely delivered to his mother, the angelic celebration, the joyful visitors, and we don't know where our sense of loss is supposed to go. Maybe our nuclear family has been scattered or broken. Maybe our baby didn't have the wished for safe arrival. Maybe the friends we long to be with are separated from us by distance, disease, or death. Maybe our lives don't seem to warrant happiness at all.

But if we stop to really look at the Christmas story, maybe we can find space for our own grief. Perhaps we see pieces of it in the crushed dreams of Joseph, the fears of a young teenage mother, or, just a couple years down the road, the mass slaughter of infants as Herod seeks to eliminate a perceived threat. It is a poignant story, full of pathos coupled with an almost tremulous hope.

This year I realized a little bit more how much God is with us in our grief and loss. For the first time, I understood that when God sent Christ to earth, giving him life, he was essentially signing his son's own death warrant. I forget, sometimes, looking at the Christmas story, that Christ's birth was his first step towards the cross that saves us. I forget that as the angels sing against the back drop of blazing stars, that God was on his throne grieving the inevitable loss of his son.

I am reminded now that God is with us in our grief and loss. That is the point of him being Emmanuel, God with us. He purposefully became flesh, and therefore embraced his coming death, so that he could be with us, unseparated by the gulf of our sin. He purposefully became flesh so that one day there can be an end to these griefs and a return to wholeness.

We think of Christmas as a time of joy, a time when there seems to be no room in the inn for our grief, but Christ makes room for our sadness. He creates space for our broken heartedness. He reminds us that grief and joy are not mutually exclusive--and he comes to bring healing, to bring comfort, to bring himself to be with us.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Heading Towards the Home Stretch

Preface: I realize now why I haven't been blogging the last few months. It's because this is exhausting. I wrangle four kids all day long, try to get in exercise when I can, attempt to not let the house go to the dogs, and work to have conversations with my husband that consist of more than caveman grunts all while growing someone else's eyelashes and toenails...and by the end of the day, I'm done. However, I recognize that a) there is no rest for the wicked, and b) sacrifices must be made, and c) some things are worth it.

Moving on...

The end must be drawing nigh:

  • I can't get five minutes without a child or a pet superglued to at least one of my appendages. Someone must be touching Mommy at all times because soon...she will be taken over by the interloper baby.
Case in point.
  • I keep finding that my shirts don't always completely cover the bottom of my belly. I'd be more embarrassed by this if this wasn't my fifth kid, by which I mean: the standards have dropped significantly. Sue me.
Pancakes at the kitchen counter. This is either another example
of lowered standards or just me winning at life.
  • When you have four kids already, nesting looks a little different. Sure, I've set up the nursery, washed the clothes and put them in the dresser, prepped the carseat (well, that one is still in the works--we're currently playing tetris with all the boosters and carseats in the Bus), but there is no point in washing curtains, bleaching the tub, wiping down baseboards, etc. All that work would be promptly undone before Baby even arrives. Instead, I've suddenly found myself with an unholy need to bathe all the pets, re-hang pictures, complete art projects, and just spend time with the older kids one-on-one. Oh, and also, I have plans to trim 80 fingernails/toenails and four heads of hair. Priorities.
Clean kitty, angry kitty...
  • People are starting the "any day now" comment and eyebrow wiggle...which means I still have over a month to go. It is blatantly unfair that at my height, I don't carry a little smaller. By the time I do deliver, everyone is past the "any day now" comment and eyebrow wiggle and instead moved on to the "are you having twins again?" expression of shock. It's lovely.
If I was due "any day now", could I still do this?!
  • The Man doesn't leave town on work trips without first stocking the pantry with Tim-Tams and biscotti. Hold on, let me add another note to my ever growing "Why I Married That Guy" list... He also made sure I restocked on decaf P. G. Tips. You can take the girl out of England and make sure she's only able to have minimal amounts of caffeine, but a cup of tea still fixes a whole lot of crazy. And trust me, there's a whole lot of crazy to go around right now.
Technically, this photo goes with the next blurb.
  • All the holiday parties are causing problems. Do you know how hard it is to look appropriately cute when all you want to wear are your oldest pair of tennis shoes, your husband's running tights, and the biggest, rattiest t-shirt you can find? Forget festive, I'm just trying not to scar all my husband's co-workers who are only now working on kid number one! I imagine them gazing at me in horror as the deep fear that this is where they end up next slowly infiltrates their minds.
  • I lose my train of thought halfway through at least three-quarters of my sentences, and I spent more time trying to remember the word for "baseboard" than I actually spent writing this blog. There may have been googling involved. All this means that, homeschooling has gotten extra interesting. Yesterday I gave Tiny a full explanation of the word "opaque" only to realize that it was completely wrong and I was actually defining "translucent".
Why is this face so cute?
Good thing he's only 4 and the cuteness makes up for the inability
to tell you the difference between translucent and opaque.
  • I've gotten oddly interested in non-maternity fashion...probably only because maternity clothes and I are so over each other and I'm dreaming about a time when I can get back into my normal clothes. Unfortunately, next up is the slowly deflating postpartum belly and the humongously awful nursing boobs. These kids better know how much I love them.
When Tiny decides he wants all the kids in a picture,
but the twins just aren't quite on board...
The end might be drawing nigh when I start thinking that I'd better find a blog nickname for this latest kid. Bonus Baby has such a nice ring to it, but no real long term staying power. At some point, all babies, even bonus ones, grow up. But no matter how close I am to the end of this pregnancy, I am so not close enough to be thinking about that.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Picture the Learning

{Warning: several unflattering pictures of me to follow. Blame Tiny who likes to steal the phone while I am otherwise occupied with Littles.}

Next week, we are finishing out yet another semester of homeschooling. Thankfully, as our semester peters out, we have less and less work. I say thankfully, because we are all still blowing out buckets of snot, our main teacher (that's me) sounds like a cross between an operatic frog and a cross-dressing chain smoker, and our other main teacher (nope, still me) is running out of steam as her pregnancy draws to a close. None of us are completely sure how next semester will go with a new baby in the house, so this is probably a good time for a little retrospective. Next semester may go to the dogs.

Really this is going to be more of a picture post with explanatory captions. Enjoy.

This is my teacher's planning book. So I feel like a real homeschool teacher. And also so that I can convince myself that we're actually learning real things and making real progress. I have delusions of grandeur.

Most of the time, this is what school looks like in our house. We do a good portion of our work slumped back on the couch, with or without the laptop (that day was a research day--let's watch the moon landing, kids!), with or without half naked twins climbing over us, with or without partially folded laundry in the works, with or without lego towers.

We use the whiteboard a lot. But I have to hide the markers when they aren't in use because otherwise the twins wreak havoc. And do you know how hard it is to get dry erase marker out of clothing? Because I do. That day we were studying Venn Diagrams. Fun times. Especially when Venn Diagrams turns into an episode of "Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?" (We know our bad guy is tall, wears glasses, and has a beard...)

Sometimes, though, school is outside--because if you can, why don't you? That was the beginning of our gratitude pumpkin--we don't normally homeschool accompanied by giant gourds. We do, however, occasionally take breaks to play football.

Since October, we've been working on cursive. It's been painful for all involved, but especially for me--my handwriting is notoriously horrendous. Littles has threatened multiple times to desert me for a better teacher (i.e. Nana or Aunt Jo). So far no one has abandoned ship, although my sanity has been taking a leave of absence for several weeks now.

I have tried really hard, as is evident by this super concentrated tongue effort. Things are still very ugly, but we're plowing through.

Even Tiny has gotten in on the game.

We've also had some really entertaining journal entries. Like when Littles wrote that "For Neni and Aki's visit, I liked wine..."

Although some of his were inspirational. All aspiring presidents could use the reminder not to be mean. Cough::we don't talk politics on this blog::cough cough.

And we had some exciting art lessons. This was the day we studied Jackson Pollock.  Thank goodness for water based paint.

I also found some great drawing books at the library that helped the boys with their animals. Tiny did an exquisite squid and quite an accomplished ant eater, but neither photographed well, so you're stuck with Little's sea turtle. I'm digging those ultra-stylized waves.

For P.E. we play football and take walks with the dog (and inevitably get home to discover that I still have a pen stuck in my hair that had to be quickly confiscated from Bruiser earlier in the day). The boys have also been turning our home into an American Ninja Warrior course. So far no one has died. Props to me.

And most mornings it's only Trigger hiding under the covers from the start of our school day, so...I'll take it.

I will say, though, that my homeschooling philosophy is shifting somewhat. Here's why: I'm starting to realize that I just can't do it all. I know. Shocker. The truth is that most days I feel pretty good about where Littles and Tiny are scholastically. I may not be the most organized or driven homeschool mom on the face of the planet, but we're getting it done (mainly because of my type A first child).

But every once in a while I talk to another mom who tells me what her kid is doing in school and I start to panic. My kid isn't doing that. I haven't taught that concept. We haven't gone over that together. It takes every ounce of self preservation not to a) completely scratch everything we are doing and revamp our system or b) enroll my kids in whatever school system was just discussed or c) resign myself to my child hating me forever for a lifetime of imbecility. After a few deep breaths though, I remember that I'm not in this "job" to teach my child everything under the sun--because that's impossible--I'm here to teach my child how to learn. Then he can go out on his own and learn whatever it is that he actually needs.

But sometimes, I just really wish I was better at all those cute little crafty things.

Related side note: The kids and I tried making cinnamon/applesauce/glue ornaments this week. Not only did two of them crumble into oblivion at the first touch, but I totally underestimated the effect it was going to have on my over heightened sense of smell (thank you, pregnancy) even while dealing with excess mucus issues. Lesson learned.

In closing, when I told the boys I was writing about homeschooling this week, Tiny said to tell all of you that his homeschooling advice is to read everything in the whole wide world. So...we're going to get  right on that. In the meantime, may we all continue to educate our children in whatever manner is most effective for them and for our own families. Vive la diffĂ©rence!

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Words of the Week

Sometimes the word of the week just happens to be "catawampus". It's not that everything is awful--worse things could've happened--but your week is just a series of one "SERIOUSLY?!" after another.

You hear weird sounds in the kitchen sink and then the toilet floods and then before you know it, the house is swamped by poop water and you're being encouraged by maintenance to make alternative arrangements for the night (which turns into two nights). One kid comes down with a cough, and then it's two kids, and then before you know it, the whole family is down for the count (and coughing their heads off in temporary lodging).

Blythe, confused, because last time she checked,
the toilet didn't belong in the front hallway.

You're late to church on Sunday and forget that you volunteered to help with child care. You lock yourself out of the house when your husband (and both house keys) are half an hour away. You rip your favorite pair of maternity jeans. Yes. You really do. And then make fat pregnant cow jokes for the rest of the week.

But you know what? Sometimes the word of the week also just so happens to be "grateful". Grateful that your husband is home and can take off work to deal with the poop flood. Grateful for kids who saw our escapades as adventures not inconveniences. Grateful for friends who provided back up. Grateful for breakfast tacos (because, let's be honest, if you can't go home and cook your own breakfast in your own kitchen--let there be tacos). Grateful that you happened to be ahead on your To Do list and your homeschooling schedule so that a couple days languishing in snot and hotel sheets don't matter quite so much. Grateful that we have maintenance guys who can dig up water mains until they find whatever it was the twins more than likely flushed down the toilet.

The younger three and the maternity jeans
that can't keep my leg muscles in...

I guess the real word of the week might've been "perspective", because by now we all know, it's rarely as bad as it could be, and there are always things to rejoice in and be grateful for--if we're willing to look for them. So, it's Thursday night, and with my head convinced that it's going to explode in a snot volcano, I am grateful for perspective on catawampus weeks.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Word Power

Words have power. We all know that. This time of year, especially, the focus is heavy on the messages we tell ourselves while we consider what we are grateful for (confession: I obviously drafted this before Thanksgiving).

Our family has been counting God's gifts to us by writing them on a Gratitude Pumpkin this week (that's about my level of holiday crafting). I've been surprised by how much the kids have gotten into it, although there has been a certain amount of naming off whatever random objects Tiny's eyes light on. I finally had to start asking the kids why they were grateful for things before sharpie-ing them onto the Pumpkin. I drew the line at writing on "TV stand".

The Pumpkin sits on our kitchen table the rest of the day, and the kids have fun spinning it around looking for their favorite items on the list. Bee wants to find her sister's name every time. Littles wants to find his entry for "moon songs" (it's a long story). And Tiny consistently wants whatever is written immediately next to whatever Littles is looking at so that they can fight over who gets which side of the Pumpkin. It's been fun to not only write out what we're grateful for, but then to get to talk about it as the week progresses. Fighting aside.

Last week I also indulged myself in a little bit of artistic word power, by painting one of my favorite biblical blessings on our entry wall (which refuses to accept nails, screws, or any alternative ways to hang artwork). I enjoyed my time painting, but I've loved even more getting to talk to the kids about what the words mean and being reminded of what really matters as I go through my daily routines (specifically mounds of laundry and adventures in twin potty training). It is good to remind myself that God's peace is with me as I mop up pee puddles.

I've been thinking a lot about the narratives we tell ourselves since we found out I was pregnant again. After the initial shock, I felt the need to apologize and to explain. I hated that everybody "didn't know the whole story". It then became hard to let go of my need to tell everyone the Whole Story. One of the ways that I came to terms with our new reality was to reframe the narrative for myself. Instead of seeing baby number 5 as just another surprise baby, I started thinking about her as a bonus baby. In my mind, I told myself that this was similar to an opportunity for extra credit points on a project or the chance to work overtime for double the pay. For some odd reason, that made it more fun for me. We're having a Bonus Baby!

Regardless, I want to challenge myself daily to think about the narrative that I am telling myself and others. Does my story sound like this: I'm already floundering with four kids. How in the world am I going to handle another? Or like this: Our kids are so much fun, we get to have another! Am I allowing myself to stay in the frustrations of the moment or looking for the things for which I can say thank you? Am I letting myself by overwhelmed by the tyranny of the urgent or trying to remind myself of truth while dealing with those still definitely urgent items (there is pee on the floor here, people!)?

Our words may not change our reality but they truly can shift the way we deal with said reality. I hope that when I pick the truth I tell myself and others that I pick a truth that encourages and challenges over a truth that disheartens and weakens.

{The pictures of the kids are from July. I never shared them, and now months later, thought you'd enjoy them along with us.}

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

A Birthday Gift to Me

My thirtieth birthday gift to myself is to start blogging again.

This pregnancy has been hard on the blog. I've been tired (physically and emotionally and mentally) and since there are no screaming children demanding that I blog, I haven't done so. A large part of me has considered letting the blog go completely. I could sit myself comfortably in any number of excuses (brain too fried from homeschooling, exhausted from tantruming two year old twins, ran out of funny stories, stopped learning new things...).

But then I remember why I do this: because I like to and because it's a part of who I am that has absolutely nothing to do with my precious children. Sometimes that's enough reason.

Honestly, that's a lot of the same answer that I give when people ask why I've kept running this pregnancy. And I have been asked quite a lot. It's not like anyone is forcing me to go run, and it's not like people wouldn't understand if I stopped. But I like to run and it's a part of who I am that has absolutely nothing to do with my precious children.

So I'm going to look at this blog much like I look at running while 7 months pregnant. It might be painful. It may be sporadic. And there will be some hilarious moments when I look like some kind of cross between a waltzing hippopotamus and a spasming penguin, but we will get there. Though it may be slow and short and with several stops to allow for cramping or bathroom breaks.

Here we go.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Books For My Mother (And Maybe For Yours If Yours Is Also Amazing)

Two months ago, my mother asked me for a list of books that would be fun, thought provoking, and new to her. She's an avid reader with excellent taste, so I couldn't just phone this in. Also, I've gotten really great at procrastinating and passing the buck this summer's September now. In an attempt to not sound like a horrible daughter, I have texted her some excellent suggestions every time she sends me panicked messages from the library. I started her on Penderwicks and Marissa Meyer's Lunar Chronicles, and naturally she has loved both series and we have had a great time texting back and forth about our least favorite cliff hangers and most favorite funny moments. Also, she graciously admitted that the fourth Penderwick book almost made her cry too (so I felt better about sob-laughing most of the way through it). 

Obligatory grandkid picture

Anyway, after weeks of deep thought, the official Mother Mine Reading List--for the discerning mother with eclectically exquisite taste and a need for awesome:

East by Edith Pattou :: This beautiful retelling of the fairy tale "East of the Sun, West of the Moon" is intricately written with beautiful language. It made me want to travel and reinforced my belief in the power of our convictions and that sometimes the simplest of tasks can become the most life giving.

Oleander Girl by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni :: A lushly written story of the importance of identity and the difference between doing what is right and what is easy, I loved the cultural depth of this book that jumps between India and a post-911 U.S. 

Flora and Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo :: I have a weakness for children's lit that I came by honestly. I grew up with Mom reading out loud to us every night before bed, although we made Dad read any that required British accents. Anyway, Flora and Ulysses is not a read aloud--it's an illustrated novel and I wasn't expecting to be blown away by it, but it satisfied something deep in me while still being surprisingly funny. {I wrote about it briefly here.}

Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple :: Quirky and unexpected, I found this book thoroughly entertaining, but I mainly included it because I really want to know what my mom thinks of it.

Wonder by R. J. Palacio :: Exquisitely beautiful, I loved the sense of hope this book left behind. Another children's book, the gentle handling of August Pullman's story (a normal boy with a very different face) placed it on my force-people-to-read list. I know my mom will love it.

The Doldrums by Nicholas Gannon :: This is not a classic yet, but it should be. Plus the illustrations are incredible, so I'm going to make sure that Mom shares it with my artist dad. I gave this book to my older sister for her birthday last year because people who love each other make sure that good books get shared. A book about imagination, friendship, and a yearning for adventure, you might find yourself surprised by how the loose ends tie up. Also, now I want chocolate croissants. Thanks, Nicholas Gannon.

Daring Greatly by Brene Brown :: I suggest this book to pretty much everyone I meet. Fascinating research combined with well told stories left me thinking about vulnerability and shame in all new ways. The world looks a little different after reading. {Referenced here and here.}

A Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh :: Mom told me she read this years ago. One should always reread great literature. I know I've written about A Gift from the Sea on the blog fairly recently, so I won't say anything else, but all women should read this book...preferably with several years in between the readings. And it's about time for my mom's reread. {Also referenced here.}

A Million Little Ways by Emily Freeman :: A Million Little Ways is a must read for anyone finding their significance in life. According to Freeman, we're all making art in a million little ways. My mom is the consummate artist, both in the traditional sense through vocal performance, but also in the small ways that she makes the world a more beautiful place. And if you're wondering how you're making art these days, you might want to pick this one up too. {Written about earlier here.}

In Other Words by Jhumpa Lahiri :: I just started this nonfiction pick about falling in love with another language (and I rarely suggest books I haven't finished yet), but I have a gut feeling about Lahiri's latest book. I'm pretty sure that anyone who has discovered the beauty of another culture and another means of expression will enjoy this read, but I promise a follow up if I'm unpleasantly surprised later in the book. Kind of like how doctors tell you they'll call if the test results look bad, but if you don't hear anything than you're probably fine.

An even ten, which will probably keep my voracious reader of a mother occupied for...about two weeks. And then she'll be hounding me again. Good thing I like her. Also, I refuse to write her another book list if she doesn't keep me thoroughly entertained with her reactions as she reads.

PS During this season of book sharing, Mom demanded that I read The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton. I now feel like I have insider knowledge (no pun intended) of pop culture that I missed growing up in Indonesia. Stay gold, Ponyboy. Stay gold. Just thought I'd share.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Hope Revisited :: From the Archives

A few years ago, I had been writing about hope. I've been thinking a lot lately about the conclusions I came to, and I hope you don't mind if I share them with you again (I did tweak a few things). These days when hope seems so ephemeral and impossible, I need the reminder.

At the time, I was reading the love chapter--which means I really wasn't thinking about hope at all. I was thinking about how J.B. Phillips translated "love is not rude" to "love has good manners". (So stop talking with your mouth full! It's unloving! And if you don't change the toilet paper roll, you might as well just tell me you hate me!) And then I got to the very last verse:

In life we have three lasting qualities--faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of them is love.

All those years ago, I asked what we do when our hope dies. Now, I think the answer to the question is love.

When our hope is deferred, we choose to love. To love ourselves, to love the faulty humans who surround us, to love Christ, and possibly most importantly, to rest in His love for us, because we are faulty humans and consequently, our love also is faulty.

So, at the end of a long day when things have not gone as planned,
when the laundry has not been finished,
the dishes have not been done,
the floors have not been vacuumed,
the muscles of my body and mind have not been stretched,
all because of the tyranny of the urgent (also known as the tyranny of twins and toddlers),
and I look in the mirror and lose hope that life will ever be manageable again,
that my body will ever be, well, not saggy and flabby,
that my mind will be able to process more than lunch schedules and tantrum management,
that our home will ever be salvaged from the dust bunnies that have taken over,
that I'll ever get things rolling…

I must make the choice to love.

When the news is filled with death and hatred and pain,
when our reality is one of fear,
when each phone call or email seems to bring more bad news,
when we have no words but grief,
when we just want to fix things now
but there's no quick fix...

I must make the choice to love.

So I remind myself that I love my children and my husband,
and that a great part of love is service,
whether that means kissing invisible booboos
or choosing to do dishes with multiple children dangling from my legs
or leaving behind unfolded laundry to fit in some outdoor bonding with my sons.

I remind myself that I need to love myself,
which might mean cutting a little slack,
or crediting piggy back rides as an aerobic work out,
or believing the Man when he tells me that what I've done with my day is enough.

I remind myself that though I can't fix everything,
I can love my neighbor
and sometimes it's one small gentleness after another
that changes the world.

Most of all, perhaps, I remind myself that I love my Jesus,
and that means believing him
when he tells me I am fearfully and wonderfully made--yes, even on the days when I feel like a failure,
believing him
when he promises to be near the broken hearted, 
believing him
when he promises more than this.

Because that's what love is:
believing the best
of others and of ourselves.
And when we can't hope any more,
when we find ourselves wondering if this is the best we get,

we choose love
(to believe the best even if this is the best we get).

Because love will always bring us back to our greater hope,
the one True Love who gave everything so that this
right here
right now
isn't the best we get,
but is only a shadow,
a taste,
a hint of what is to come:
forever with Him,
transformed to reflect Him,
completely satisfied in Him,
hope realized.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Book Empathy

Fiction is a great empathy builder, because the process of entering into a different—albeit imaginary—world forces the reader to see things from another point of view. 

A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies.... The man who never reads lives only once.
George R. R. Martin

This is what I've been doing. Well, reading Louise Penny and scrubbing sharpie off the kitchen cabinets with toothpaste, but the important part is the excessive reading of mystery novels. I plowed through all eleven of Penny's Chief Inspector Gamache books and did my best to not drive the librarians insane by insisting that they help me track them all down. In order. Immediately. I may or may not have acted a little like an escaped psych patient. It worked. I only had to buy book five on kindle.

I've been trying to figure out what appeals to me so much about this series. I do love a good mystery, but I shy away from any that are too gruesome. In that sense, these fit the bill. Nothing overly gory that would scar me for life. However, there is a fair amount of swearing included that might have turned me off had it not been for the fantastic writing, the believable characters, and the engaging story line. 

If I'm honest though, what I loved most about these books was the capacity to encourage empathy in me as I read. Penny's characters are varied, flawed, and multi-faceted. As I read, it helped me to step outside of myself and my limited life experience and get to be in someone else's shoes for a little while. I love my life, but I also realize that it's just one experience in a vast world. Reading allows me to get inside someone else's head. It then broadens me, enlarging my world view, and hopefully making me more loving and less judgmental as I go.

Don't tell me if it's not working. I'm going to keep reading anyway.

At any rate, if you're interested in reading the Louise Penny novels, my dad succinctly described them as "well written, intriguing, and very, very secular humanistic." Decide what you're looking for before you read (and don't expect an author who doesn't share your values to write your values), but also know that when I read them, Chief Inspector Gamache is Tom Selleck in Blue Bloods but speaking French and quoting poetry. Which should be a huge selling point. Just saying.

Also, invision me doing something sadly close to a pee-pee dance in front of the library counter while they check the archives once again to find book 6 for me so I can find out what happens without reading out of order. Girl has standards. I can't read a series out of order but I have no problem ingratiating myself to librarians.

Whatever you decide to do about Chief Inspector Gamache, I would love to know if there's a book you have read that has encouraged you to be more empathetic. Sometimes it's not always the books I expect, so feel free to surprise me!

Monday, June 6, 2016

Taking Credit

Tonight at dinner, both the twins told me "thank you for the meal" without being prompted, there was actual conversation that consisted of more than "Please chew with your mouth closed", and everyone took second helpings of salad.

Today after a spontaneous and fun picnic lunch, both twins threw massive tantrums, there was a water spitting war, and I lost my temper with the entire family (myself included).

Sometimes I want to say, "It's not them! It's me!" (in an echo of that famous break up line). It's my fault when they behave badly, and I should beat myself up for my failure! But it's also all because of me when they behave well! The truth I am starting to learn, though, is that sometimes it's not either of us.

My kids are not good kids any more than they are bad kids. I am not a good mom any more than I am a bad mom. My kids are kids--and sometimes they have moments that are better than others and sometimes they have moments that are worse. I am just a mom--and sometimes I parent better and sometimes I parent worse, and sadly, my children's behavior may be more a reflection of whether or not their tag is currently scratching the back of their neck than how well I am actually doing as their mom.

I wish I had learned early on to not try to take so much credit--for the good stuff, but also for the bad. I wish I had learned to thank God for the grace of good days, but also to thank him for the bad ones because they keep me humble and dependent on him. I love it when my kids act right. It makes my job easier. But if they were little angels all the time, I would probably think it was because I had figured out this whole parenting thing, and that would be a mistake.

A word to my past self...but also to my future self: love those kids and do your best, then let everything else go. And remember: sometimes a good nap can fix everything. If not, there's always brownies. Lastly, sometimes, it's just not about you. Really.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

The Whole Picture

Until the day when God will deign to reveal the future to man, all human wisdom is contained in these two words: wait and hope. 
Alexandre Dumas, The Count of Monte Cristo

Let me begin by saying: this is not a book post. So if you are one of the habitual few who like to skip those (I will name no names--but I know who you are...), keep reading. It only starts with a book. I promise.

The big boys and I have been slowly reading through The Wind and the Willows together before bed. Recently, we came to the portion of the book where Badger, Mole, and Rat stage an intervention for automobile obsessed Toad (who is regularly wrecking those glorious machines with aplomb). After their lecture does no good, they lock him up in his bedroom to detox, taking turns guarding him so he doesn't escape.

When I closed the book for the night, I turned to Littles and asked him what he thought of Badger, Mole, and Rat. Were they being good friends or bad friends to Toad?

"Bad friends," he replied. And it does kind of look like that. They don't let him do what he wants. They essentially kidnap him. They deprive him of his rights (to drive about in motor cars that say poop-poop!).

We talked for a while about why Toad's friends were actually good friends who were looking out for his best interests (and the interests of those he might run over with aforementioned motorcars), and then I tucked the boys in for the night.

Since then, I've been thinking about the difference between a six year old perspective and a 29 year old perspective. His life experiences lends itself to a very narrow level of understanding. Twenty three years down the line, I see and understand a bit more.

I know now that sometimes what seems painful at the time can actually be for my own benefit. We see this in almost any form of discipline. Running hurts but it keeps you healthy. Practicing scales can be mind numbing, but it helps you enjoy your instrument more. Cleaning the bathrooms can be gross, but it keeps the germs away. We know these things.

Sometimes, though, because we know these things, we forget how much we still don't know. If the wisdom gap between a 6 year old and a 29 year old is this (         ) big, how huge must the gap be between our understanding and God's?

I don't know what it is in your life: job loss, depression, miscarriage, illness, death of a loved one, even something as small as an unexpected change of plans or a bad day. When faced with situations beyond our control, our gut instinct is frustration. Why is this happening? How could this be happening to me? What can I do to make this stop? And before you jump to any conclusions, no, the answer is not always that you are being disciplined.

Sometimes we're just not quite ready to understand what's really going on. We can't see enough with our limited life experience. We just aren't there yet. We're seeing this (   ). God is seeing this (                        ) times infinity. And that's okay. Much like I don't expect my 6 year old to understand at a 29 year old level, God doesn't expect us to see and understand with his magnitude of wisdom.

I included a quotation at the beginning of the blog written by Alexandre Dumas. The truth is that God hasn't yet "deign[ed] to reveal the future to man", and it might be better for everyone if we remember that our very limited wisdom can't see far past the ends of our noses. At times it looks like we've been bullied, kidnapped, and robbed of our rights. The very Best Friend doesn't look like such a good friend any more. We feel betrayed. Sometimes, even the sum total of human wisdom--wait and hope--is very hard.

This doesn't seem like much of an encouraging word, but I am saying it anyway, even if I'm saying it mostly to myself. Wait and hope, even when it's hard, especially when it's hard. The truth is that we're not seeing the whole picture yet. It's bigger than we can comprehend, and that's okay.

Today I'm praying for all of us that we can remember that even if it doesn't look that way, Christ is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow, and we can wait and hope knowing that no matter how things look we are seeing one tiny piece of the whole picture--and He is seeing it all.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016


Bee approves this message. She, too, brings her own book.

That's right: Bring Your Own Book--because you never know when the occasion will call for it. I'm going to provide you with just a few times where you should make sure you have a good book with you. You know, just in case this is something that's been keeping you up at night...

Apply the principles of BYOB to the following:
  • The grocery store. Sure, you think you're going to be in and out as quickly as possible. But sometimes the line at the deli is ridiculously long or you get stuck waiting forever to check out. Be prepared. Also, feel free to let your kids flip through the cake book repeatedly and dream about store bought cakes they will never get while you read. 
  • The toilet. This is a no brainer. Even quick pees deserve the dignity of a good book.
  • Any errand. What if you get stuck in traffic? What if you get held up by a natural disaster? What if you're involved in a hostage situation? Obviously, you would need reading material to help you through these traumatic events.
  • Plane and car rides. Because at some point you may want to do more than look at the scenery.
  • Dog walks...really, walks of any kind. What if--just what if--you fall off the curb while walking and break your leg and have to wait for an ambulance to come pick you up? You'll need something to help keep your mind off the pain. Also, something to swat the dog with, if he decides to fervently check out your newly acquired leg wound.
  • Any social engagement. One, it's a great conversation starter: from "Oh, you're reading that book?" to "That's one of my favorites!" to "Why did you bring a book when we're supposed to be hanging out?" (and that works as a litmus test for any friendship). Second, if your friend is late, you are thoroughly entertained while you wait. Third, if your social engagement goes south, you're already armed with a deadly weapon. James Joyce and Tolstoy are great choices in this regard.
  • At bed time. Something-something-blue light keeps you awake-something-something-yay books!
  • While cooking. Sure, you may end up putting the cauliflower in the chicken tikka masala and burning a couple of the naan, but priorities.
  • While cleaning. Vacuuming is much more fun with a book in hand. It is not advisable, however, to read while cleaning the toilet. Just for future reference. 
  • The doctor. Because otherwise you're going to be stuck browsing medical pamphlets that will leave you anticipating some kind of gruesome death or uncomfortably familiar with female reproductive parts.
The list could continue on. In fact, I think I will challenge you to come up with one occasion where you wouldn't have been better off if you'd remembered to BYOB. Go ahead. I dare you. Meanwhile, I'm going to bring my own book to bed at this point. And maybe a couple cats for company. Stereotypes, unite! Now, where's my mug of tea?

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Book Nostalgia

{Side note before we get to the actual blog: it was so humid today that when I was trying to take pictures, I literally had to wipe off my sense between every shot because it fogged up so much. I know this is possibly the most thrilling thing you've heard all day. Moving on...}

I've spent the week back at Plumfield with Jo March Bhaer and her little men. When my parents packed up to move back to the States from Indonesia, my one request was that they bring their copy of Little Men for me. I have Little Women (as should every respectable home) but was having a hard time tracking down its sequel at the used bookstores I frequent. There are some books you don't want to buy on Amazon. Although, true confession, I did get the free kindle version of Jo's Boys, which I had somehow never read. And I feel no shame because, Louisa May Alcott, you done me wrong with that one.

At any rate, it got me thinking about the books that I read as a child and which ones I felt needed to be in my home and why. The year Littles was born, I spent a solid month trying to track down a counting board book by Gyo Fujikama that I felt was absolutely needed in his life. I finally gave up because it was no where to be found, but got to read it to the twins this last week while at my parents. It was as lovely as I remembered, but the desperate need to have our own family copy had passed.

One beautiful bird, two loving people, three funny goblins, four delightful dreams...
::photo courtesy of my mother who is incredibly gracious to me::

This led me to wonder if it was because we have already built our own family library at this time or because my parents (and the books they have) are now accessible to us in a new way. Sure, we only make it to Tennessee once a year (and actually, this was our first trip back in three), but the idea that it's on a bookshelf waiting for my children the next time we make it there, changed something for me.

Still, I didn't hesitate to bring Little Men back to my own book hoard. There are some books that need to be within reach on a regular basis. I may not reread Little Men for a while, but when I see it on my bookshelf, it will remind me of a few heartening lessons that I just might need in the moment.

In retrospect, I know that most readers attach memories and feelings to the books that they read. Those books read during a happy childhood, then, carry extra weight. Not only do we remember upon re-reading them how it felt to be safe, cared for, and loved, but when we have our own children, we want them to feel those same things so we give them those same books. Without realizing it, we introduce our kids to our childhood favorites, not realizing that our memories are less a product of the books we read and more a result of the fact that we genuinely were safe, cared for, and loved. And our children probably are too--with or without the same exact library.

I don't know which books my children will grow up to remember with nostalgia, but I do hope that the memories that accompany them are sweet. And that's why I re-read Little Men--because I can always use an extra dose of wisdom from Marmee and the Bhaers.

It's also why I don't stop reading to Littles at night even if Tiny has already fallen asleep. You never know what could be seeping into his snoring subconscious. It could be wonderful!

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Peace Behind Me

This was the chair I sat in at my parents' for meals. With a twin on either side, meals can sometimes be exciting, even with a hearty level of back up from the Man who was also overseeing the big boys.

So it wasn't until halfway through the week that I realized what was hanging on the wall right behind me. After the kids had been excused from the breakfast table one morning, I scooted my chair over by the Man and suddenly discovered an all new view of the room that included this picture. My dad illuminated this text years ago, and it has always hung in our dining room. It was a lovely gift to read again the words of John 14:27.

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let them be afraid.

I realized something that morning. The peace was always there, much like the picture hanging behind my chair. I just couldn't see it because I had the wrong perspective. I was pointed the wrong direction. Once I changed directions, it was clearly before me instead of hidden behind me.

There are many things that leave our hearts troubled and afraid. The peace that comes from Christ is not dependent upon us having it all under control or managing our breathing lamaze style or pretending that none of it is bothering us after all. The peace that comes from Christ is always there. It's not contingent on anything that we can do.

But sometimes we have to turn around and fix our eyes on Jesus in order to remember that it's been there all along.

When our hearts are troubled, when find ourselves in a place of fear, may we turn our eyes to Jesus, whose gift of peace is nothing like the peace of the world. With his help, we will not be distressed, we will not be daunted. Turn and look with me. His peace hasn't gone anywhere.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Back to Normal

I love going on vacation, but coming home from vacation can be deadly.

First, when you get home, the house is so thickly coated in pet fur that your anal retentive self refuses to unload the suitcases until everything has been vacuumed. Then, you keep finding spots where your pets revenge-peed and spite-barfed. Then your loving husband recognizes that your brain is about to explode and has to bribe you back to sanity with promises of guacamole.

Guacamole works every time.

Once the piles of laundry have been tackled and the suitcases man-handled back under the stairs, there's still the return to normalcy that must be accomplished. Everyone is tired and whiney from two weeks of non-stop fun, and the grocery shopping has to be done. Add to that the fact that Tennessee was cool and refreshing, while Texas has suddenly become hot, muggy, and mosquito infested, and suddenly Mommy is growling and grouchy.

Let us not continue speaking of ourselves in the third person. Or with the royal We. Obviously, I already need more guacamole.

Regardless, we are getting back to normal, although that normal is now in the middle of summer break which makes it a little less normal than, well, normal. So tonight, as I set out my running clothes for tomorrow's first run back and get back to blogging, I am celebrating the last two weeks with all their fun and family but also celebrating normal.

There is joy in being home, even if coming home means vacuum cleaners and grocery lists and multiple loads of laundry. Because home also means normal, and normal means ordering a new white noise machine since you left your old one at a hotel somewhere along the way and would, at some point, like to stop using your cell phone as a very expensive substitute. And normal can be really nice sometimes. Even if potentially deadly.

{I know you've probably seen all these pictures already but they make my heart happy so I included them anyway. This is low budget blogging. You're welcome.}

{If you have called or texted me in the last two weeks and I haven't responded, it's because of the white noise machine/cell phone situation. And because when the twins are awake, I can't hear anything you're saying on the phone anyway.}