Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Sheer Entertainment

I try to keep my novel consumption at a dull roar, mostly because once I start a good book that actually has a story line (nonfiction, I'm looking at you), it's really hard for me to put it down. In my previous life, back before kids, this was not such an issue. The Man is extremely understanding about my lack of a need to come up for air while reading. The four hooligans I raise, however...not so much.

But every now and then, the library sends you an email, late on a Friday afternoon, letting you know that they have a whole stack of novels waiting just for you. So, you grab the twins (you have twins in this scenario--there should be twins in lots of imaginary scenarios because it automatically makes things more exciting) and leave the big boys jumping on the neighbor's trampoline and race to the library arriving a minute before you thought it was supposed to close (although, it turns out you killed yourself running while carrying 60 pounds of twins for no good reason because they don't actually close for another hour) and then saunter home with reading material that might last the whole weekend!

It did, but only because we had guests for dinner Sunday night.

Anyway, I feel like that was a really long rabbit trail that was only engaging for me. Also, in the interest of fairness, you should know that one of the books I picked up, I had already read (I don't know what happened...I'm so confused) and then I wasted a good hour or so trying to figure out when I had blogged about it, and lo and behold, I never had! For future reference: Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner--it was a well written story about the friendship between two couples. It would make for a great discussion book as it hits hard on a lot of fascinatingly controversial topics.

And that was another rabbit trail. All I really wanted to tell you about is this: some days (weeks) you stumble across books that are sheer entertainment, start to finish. The three books on this list are just that.

I started with The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin. All the book references and especially all the book snobbery made my heart so happy, but the character development and the mystery kept the whole book moving. I did make a spot on guess as to the whodunnit, but figuring it out ahead of time didn't take the fun out of it for me. If you are a book nerd and especially if you have a soft spot for bookstores or short stories, it's a must read. {Special shout out: one of my old college professors, Richard Bausch, had a short story referenced, which was extra fun for me. He used to lick his glasses while he lectured.}

Next up, I breezed through Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. I am about as far from a video gamer as you can possibly get, but this futuristic world where everyone survives primarily in virtual reality was incredibly engaging. It was funny and quirky and, oh, all the eighties references. I died. I was so sucked into this book that I tried reading while putting together Easter dinner. No lie. It's a miracle I didn't lose a finger reading and chopping carrots simultaneously. And there was a satisfying ending, which is as it should be. Also, now I really need to know: does Angry Birds count as a video game? Because if so, I'm now totally more awesome than I thought I was.

Lastly, I finished The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton. If you are looking for a book that you can't out guess, this one is for you. Although after all the twists and turns are done (and it's way past your bed time because you just couldn't put it down), you will lie in bed kicking yourself for not figuring it out earlier because Morton dutifully gave you the hints you needed if you had just paid attention better.  Spanning from WWII through to the 21st century, I loved watching as each thread of the family mystery unraveled.

I refuse to give book summaries, that's what Amazon is for, but if you want a book to entertain your socks off, any of these three will do.

Now, with that said, I don't read books where I agree with all of the choices made by all of the characters. One of the great things about reading is being able to engage with characters who are completely different from us, thereby enabling us to learn empathy. These books are not squeaky clean. Know what you want to put in your mind and read accordingly. This is a much longer conversation than I'm going to engage in right now though, so...moving on...

One last plug and then I'm out for the night. If you're looking for a twenty minute inspirational read with lots of Harry Potter references (and I'm sure that something of that sort has been on your "Must Find To Read" list, just like all of us want a good book about ninja unicorns), Very Good Lives is the book form of J. K. Rowling's speech at Harvard's commencement in 2008. It was quick but encouraging, humbling, and funny all at the same time. And not just sheer entertainment, if that's not exactly your thing.

The rest of us, though, will pat ourselves on the back for having read some non-fiction for once, and then go on back to our very engaging novels and the resulting lack of sleep they bring.

Monday, March 28, 2016

First, But Also After Later

I mentioned last week that we have a new catch phrase in our family: after later. It was implemented by Bruiser who, I can only assume, gets tired of being told he has to wait for the things he wants to do. "After later", he will be able to go touch an airplane. "After later", he can play in Dad's jeep. "After later", he can have ice cream. It's hard being two.

I was thinking about "after later" this morning. I woke up lethargic and with yet another sore throat. I was 3/4 of the way through my novel, and I told Littles we would get to chores and school just as soon as I finished my coffee, by which I meant the ever ambiguous "after later". We made it to his school work before the morning was through, but only after I had finished my book and pried myself up from the kitchen table only to collapse again on the couch.

Then we were faced with the fact that the twins had run rampant for most of the morning...and Bruiser is the ultimate dumper. The house was in epic disarray. Naturally, I took that opportunity to eat crow and explain to the boys the concept of "doing the hard thing first"... and doing what I say, not what I do. Having girded up our loins, we cleaned up the house (broken crayons, dumped stamps, millions of matchbox cars, etc) and went on out to play.

Do you see what I see?

But my own words have been haunting me. "Do the hard thing first." I did get dinner cooked. My running clothes are out for tomorrow morning. And I didn't bail on my blog. But as soon as I hit post on this sucker, I'm drinking a cup of hot tea and climbing in bed with my book. I haven't vacuumed today; the laundry is not done; I'm halfway through a second book; and I didn't sing to the boys before bed. Because, well, I feel crummy. And as with any maxim, there has to be balance.

So, I think I'm revising my lesson to the boys. Do the hard thing first, but make sure it's a hard thing that actually matters. Everything else can wait until after later. And make sure "after later" includes cake, please.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Cross Training

The Man sometimes worries that he's failing me as a running coach because he hasn't helped me implement any cross training. He envisions time for me on a bike (stationary, of course) or in the pool or on an elliptical (which is no fun because you don't see anything and you can't read simultaneously). I told him that I do cross train, and he laughs because doesn't this sound like cross training to you:
  • Stairs while carrying between 30 and 60 pounds, 30 for a solo twin and 60 for both, plus whatever paraphernalia they are dragging with them (sippies! books! stuffed animals! cars that will slip through your fingers four steps down, land emphatically on your bare toes, and then trip you on the bottom step!).
  • Walking all over base to chase an escapee dog while either pushing a stroller (60 pounds again) or carrying someone in an Ergo while breaking your back to hold hands with the other someones.
  • Playing soccer with kid number 1 while carrying kid number 3 and simultaneously pushing kids number 2 and 4 on the swing. Balance, weight lifting, and aerobic exercise!
  • Kitchen dancing--because of course.
  • House cleaning. Remember back in the day when people just lived normally to stay fit because they didn't need to go to a gym and purposefully sculpt each separate ab in their six pack? Also, back then they didn't use machines to do everything. I totally hand wash my jeans so... yeah.  Lastly, my six pack wears stretch marks. Moving on.
  • Speed everything: speed toy picking up, speed bed making, speed dishwasher loading and unloading, speed homeschooling. I have competitive children, and everything is a race. This should totally count.
  • Trying to plank with children sitting on your back and then giving up because you can't stop laughing and then giving everyone horsey rides instead.
  • Carrying a huge bag full of library books back and forth from the library at least once a week.
Anyway, it may not be the typical definition of cross training, which normally runs something along the lines of "training in two or more sports to improve physical fitness and performance" (don't quote me on that), but I definitely qualify motherhood as an extreme, full body, endurance sport that can also be qualified under "contact sport" and sometimes even "combat sport". It is not, however, competitive, which is lucky for me because I'm pretty sure having your kids bail on nap time two days in a row would dock points--and I really don't like losing.

Tiny--wearing a helmet at all times because did I mention "contact sport"?

At any rate, cross training: in our house, up for redefinition. And my version seems to be pulling its own weight at present. Either that or my runs are highly motivated by the promise of chocolate milk at the finish line.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016


Our family spends a lot of time outside. There are many reasons for this:
  • The kids are loud because they are kids but we live in a duplex. If they're loud outside, I feel less guilty and self-conscious.
  • If we're outside, then the house isn't getting trashed. This is also a big reason for having at least one meal a day eaten in the yard. Picnics are my friend. They should be your friend too! No sweeping required!
  • Being outside has inspired many new catch phrases such as "berry-toes" and "after later". These can be used in such a fashion: "After later, you may take off your shoes and go berry-toes." So being outside inspires creativity. Bonus points!
  • Being outside burns off energy, which means Mommy has hopes of nap time.
  • Being outside is educational, which is a check mark for homeschooling. Look! A beetle! That's an insect. And over there, your tomato plant is putting out new shoots. And yes, the law of gravity says that if you throw dirt up in the air, it will come back down and get in your brother's eyes.
  • Being outside is social--neighbors and other kids to play with!
  • Everyone's happier outside. It's just the truth.
I've shown you pictures of the swing. Here's another one...because the twins slay me with their cuteness and I wish they would stop growing already. I also wish Bruiser's hair would miraculously stop growing because I'm starting to lose him under there and he still won't let me near him with the scissors.

And here's one of the Man teaching Tiny how to ride his bike without training wheels. Also included, Trigger's ear, because when one is taking cell phone pictures in bright sunlight, one can't really see what one is doing.

But what I really wanted to tell you about was our discovery of a new favorite. Each of the places we've lived, we've found a place to go that feeds our need for beauty. In DC, it was a walking trail down by the Potomac (back when it was only Littles in the stroller). In Oklahoma, we would go for turtle hunts along the creek. In California, there were long hours on the beach watching for dolphins.

This is (I think) our new place: lily pads and bright yellow water lilies, turtles piling up on half-submerged tree branches, water birds, and the bright orange flash of a koi. We brought lunch down and ate quickly before going exploring (by which I mean Bruiser couldn't be bothered to eat and had to have second lunch when we got home). We did our best to avoid the taller grasses because we'd heard rumors of water moccasins and didn't care to find out if they were more than rumors.

We had a great time exploring a new place, and I'm sure we'll be back. Probably for another picnic lunch because guess what I didn't have to do that day? That's right: sweep. Sweeping is the worst.

But that's not the point of this post (although, I am kind of writing this by the seat of my pants) . The point of this post is to just get outside. Explore a little--even if it's only your own back yard. Let some more sunshine and fresh air and green into your life. Pick a wildflower and put it in your hair--but only one wildflower because you know it won't last once you've picked it. Throw some rocks into a body of water and listen to that ever satisfying "plooooop" when they strike the surface.

Keep your eyes open and look for beauty. If you're like me, you may have brought it with you in the car. Incidentally, the "beauty" on the far right looks like he's just about ready for a nap...

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

This Week's Book Bag

Books, books, books, and a cup of tea and toasted blueberry muffins--because any night I have to battle Bruiser at bedtime for only an hour is classified as a win. And worthy of celebration with caffeine, carbs, and copious amounts of, you got it, BOOKS.

Tonight, I want to focus mainly on some children's poetry books that the bigger boys and I have been enjoying lately, but there are a few extras included because there is no such thing as enough reading material. So, in no particular order, I give you:

A World of Wonders: Geographic Travels in Verse and Rhyme by J. Patrick Lewis, pictures by Alison Jay. Fantastic illustration work, but the big win was the text. Any book that can use flawless meter and rhyme to teach in an interesting way the difference between latitude and longitude or the names of the five oceans is an automatic win. Things I learned that I didn't know: the Sahara Desert equals the size of the United States, and the Great Pyramid weighs as much as 16 Empire State Buildings. The boys and I had so much fun with this one.

Casey at the Bat by Ernest L. Thayer, illustrations by Christopher Bing. I've said it before, I'll say it again: there are some books that are classics for a reason. This is one.  If you have baseball loving boys (or girls!), this will be an instant win. Great vocabulary and perfect for talking points, and the newspaper layout was a fun inclusion.

Peacock and Other Poems by Valerie Worth, pictures by Natalie Babbit. Just beautiful. A lovely  collection of short poems that allow you to pull up an image, a point of being in your mind. Beautifully accompanied by Natalie Babbit's pencil illustrations.

Wild Wings: Poems for Young People by Jane Yolen, photographs by Jason Stemple. Jane Yolen has been a long time favorite in our home, and this book was a lovely addition. While I don't necessarily love the presentation, the poetry is evocative, the photographs tasteful, and the small informational inclusions about each bird enjoyable. The boys especially liked getting to learn a little bit more about each of the birds Yolen described.

Leading Little Ones to God by Marian M. Schoolland, illustrations by Paul Stoub. The boys and I have been going through this book at night together. While I occasionally do feel the need to clarify certain points, on the whole it's been a really great fit. There is a short teaching section, a few questions that we discuss together, a memory verse, a scripture portion to read, a hymn, and a prayer. It takes us, tops, 15 minutes every night. I'm looking forward to doing the whole book. Incidentally, I rediscovered this book while babysitting for a dear friend--it was the one my mom worked through with me when I first came to Christ.

Matilda by Roald Dahl. I know we've been on a Roald Dahl kick, but I promise this is the last one. For now. I'm moving on...though I'm not sure what to next. I'm considering The Wind and the Willows, but I will be devastated if the boys don't like it so...I'm hesitant. ANYWAY, Matilda. We had a rip roaring good time (although I did edit out Dahl's "Oh my gawd"s and "ass"s, because I didn't want my very impressionable four year old adding to his litany of un-age appropriate words). Now the kids and I are debating whether or not they're up for watching the movie. Here's to reading big books, bigger books, and biggest books, solving impressive math problems, and moving things with your eyes.

I know this isn't my typical inclusion, but in case you guys haven't seen these, they are great options for your kids. My parents sent Littles the Usborne Big Doodling Book for his birthday this year, and he has loved it. It's also really fostered his creativity--and I've loved that. It would be a great inclusion for any kid, but especially one gearing up for a long trip or one whose mother demands long periods of afternoon quiet time because she's an introvert and yet somehow has four children... 

I'll close out with a few not pictured extras: 

Helen Lester's Tacky books are hilarious (and I really do wish I'd gotten photos of them because the illustrations by Lynn Munsinger are great). We also picked up one of her books about the Loch Mess Monster which cracked us all up. Tacky the Penguin still remains my favorite though. I skimmed through Amazon briefly to review some of the older books that we'd read about him, but all you need to know is that just seeing the covers again made me start laughing.

I did finish Major Pettigrew's Last Stand this week by Helen Simonson. It was beautifully written and incredibly thought provoking for me. I loved getting to momentarily be back in England, with all its quirks and foibles. And I also loved all the little jokes about Americans. There were some hysterically dry lines that just made the book for me, and I'm so glad that I finally read this, as it's been on my book list for months now. Don't read if you are incapable of laughing at yourself, doubting your hero, appreciating British humor, or just listening in on someone else's worldview for a while.

And that's it for tonight. Tune in next week for another peek into our stack of reading material.

Monday, March 21, 2016


I transplanted some of the Little Man's vegetable plants today. I'd assiduously read the instructions that came with the little seed pods (because I am Type A and a rule follower), and it said to pull up the extras and throw them away, but I couldn't do the throwing away part. It just felt wasteful (I grew up in a home where my mother washed and reused her ziplock bags--some things die hard). So I wiggled them up as gently as I could and tried to replant what tiny bits of root I managed to unearth.

Now, I wait. I wait to see if the replanted little plants put out more roots and survive their transplanting. I wait to see if they make new homes (only a few inches north of where they were originally thriving) or shrivel up to nothingness. I wait to see if they can fight for the deep roots that their un-transplanted neighbors take for granted. I realize that I should have small hope for their survival. They were transplanted by the Queen of the Black Thumb. I also realize that they were never expected to live (see instructions for the seed pods as included above). But...

I hope that they thrive and flourish, that they fight against the odds, mostly because I live in metaphor (I blame all those writing classes in college). My roots, too, have been ripped out and broken, and I am placed again into the dirt (what is the difference between a few inches and a few states?) and I wait: to see if I can be brave enough to put out new roots, to drink deep of the water and sunlight, and to grow again. I hope that I too will flourish.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Train Narratives

One of the things I've noticed lately is just how important the words are that we use to shape our narrative. For instance, when the Man comes home, I can describe my day as awful or challenging. Using "awful" as my descriptor leaves a bad taste in both our mouths as well as portraying me as the victim. "Challenging", on the other hand, is empowering and opens things up for a discussion.

To put it slightly differently, I can tell you I was a bad driver and once ran over a stop sign or I can engage you with a fascinating story about a stop sign (which is not a stationary object) that jumped out in front of my car.

The words we use matter. They shape our experiences, providing a frame for our narrative. They have an impact, not only on the listener and how they feel when they walk away, but on us as well. The words we choose to use (and it is a choice: it doesn't just happen) define who we are. They let us know what we truly believe and feel.

This week I've been thinking about that in regard to the train that goes by the base. The Little Man and I have been reading a lot of poetry lately so, as I was last week, I've found myself writing poetry while I run (and sometimes late at night when I'm trying to fall asleep). These two were both the product of such creativity and stood in such sharp contrast that I'd thought to share them with you. The subject matter is the same but the words used resonate in very different ways.

It rumbles,
Roaring like a timpani,
The sound rolling out to meet me:
Get out of my way
I'm faster than you!
But it always trails off in a whimper.


My heart hears the train in the night
And it's lonely
And the cars on the track are hurried
Yet hesitant
And the whistle in the wind wails wild.
The dark wraps around with its silence
While my heart hears the train in the night.

My heart hears the train
And it's lonely.
My heart (lonely, lonely)
My heart (lonely, lonely)

And still...

One last thought on words: if we ourselves have trouble deciding which words to use in order to frame our narrative, and we pick carefully because one day we want to project strength and another day softness, shouldn't we make the assumption that others are making those choices too? And perhaps give them a bit of grace on the days they pick the wrong words to express the soul within?

One morning the train sounds brash and bold, the next it's lost in loneliness. We've all been there. Choose your words wisely, and give a little grace.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

This Is Life

This is life: harsh sun-bright shadows, picnics on a dirty quilt, food smeared grins.

This is life: Bee flat out on the kitchen counter and Bruiser trying to change her diaper, Tiny signing "I love you" with his pinky only half up, Littles brushing my hair while I drink my morning coffee.

This is life: laughing about an unexpected pregnancy in the year you aptly named Overflow followed by the drowning grief of miscarriage, not knowing how to talk or write about what happened, learning how to be again in the year you named Flourish. This is life.

This is life: getting the dog to smell a dandelion, trying to help Mommy lift the stroller over a curb (while still sitting in said stroller), shoving as many books as possible into the library bag.

This is life. It is ephemeral, which is what makes it so precious. 

You blink, and the dog develops white whiskers around his nose, your youngest son is planning cross-country road trips that don't involve you (but do involve the "Burban" which he thinks he is capable of driving), your oldest son chooses playing with friends over reading with Mommy.

You blink, and something you had just learned to love is gone. The grief is as precious as the joy, though much more painful. But if we numb the one, we numb the other. We learn this, and it is hard--and we do not have the words. But we have the tears.

And God always, always, always takes our overflow of tears to water the soil and grow something beautiful. He takes the tears of sadness and the tears of laughter and brings more life. 

This is life--and it is precious.

He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, 
shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him. 
Psalm 126:6

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Books For You and Books For Me (But Mostly Just Me)

I thought it was time for a good old fashioned dip into my bookshelf. Or rather, my library bag, since most of what I've been reading lately has been courtesy of our library. May I just say: having a library two blocks from the house is really nice. Having a library where I can request books online from the comfort of my own home (that is a mere two blocks away) is dangerous. Our book bag may or may not be realigning my spine.

At any rate, here's what I've been reading (and drinking, evidently):

Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. This is not a library find. I've had this book on my To Buy for years, and when I stumbled upon it at our local used bookstore (complete with a beautiful, hand written dedication from a mother to her daughter), I snatched it up immediately. I have been rereading this one slowly. Tasting each word and thinking about what each one means in my own small and specific life. If you haven't read this book, please do. It's lovely and thought provoking and soul quieting.

Better than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Life by Gretchen Rubin. What you need to know: I drove the Man nuts talking about this book, and he (allegedly) accused me of reading self-help books. This is not a self-help book, but it is fascinating! If you've ever wanted to understand the science behind your habits or look for a different way to tweak your own, this would be a great pick for you. It was timely for me as I generally have to restart most, if not all, of my good habits with every move (and work to not continue poor habits picked up during times of transition). And no, Rubin doesn't tell you what habits you should be implementing or what ways will definitely work for you. She leaves you with the space to come to those conclusions yourself.

The Four Habit Tendencies as designated by Gretchen Rubin.
Read the book and find out what you are.
And then drive everyone else crazy by trying to figure out what they are.

Dangerous by Shannon Hale. Sometimes a girl needs a little easy reading Sci Fi in her life, and Shannon Hale makes my heart happy (although Goose Girl still remains my all time favorite of hers). Aliens, super heroes, cereal sweep stake winners, and best of all, a heroine with what many would call a severe disability. It's an afternoon read and a great accompaniment for spring break (if your evil homeschooling mother allows you one--poor Littles).

Princess Academy: Palace of Stone and The Forgotten Sisters by Shannon Hale. Yes, I was on a Shannon Hale kick. Sue me. But don't really, because the Man and I share a bank account and we have four voracious eaters to feed. These are the sequels to the original Princess Academy and are mostly light hearted fluff but fluff with a side of French Revolution, women's rights, and ethics. I enjoyed them and would highly recommend for your pre-teen daughter. They have some great discussion points. I love Hale's strong female leads who are backed up by some excellent males (who use their brains and aren't just along for the ride).

Hokey Pokey by Jerry Spinelli. A quirky and engaging look at the transition out of childhood, but the best part of any Spinelli book is the rich, tastable language. He writes prose like beat poetry.

For the Love by Jen Hatmaker. A quick read with a hefty dose of humor, a passion for people, and a hunger for grace. My favorite line: "We need to quit trying to be awesome and instead be wise." Come for a look through someone else's eyes and then decide how that's going to affect your own world view.

Next up is Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson. I just started it last night, and then the Man reminded me that I was planning to get up and go slog through a run, so I should go to bed, and he was right, so I did. But I'm really looking forward to reading it. It's been on my To Read list for quite some time, so cheers for giving myself a future check mark.

So tell me, what are you reading? And what should I be reading?

{Apologies for not having pictures of all the books--it's been that week where everyone has been sick. Plus, all my camera skills have been utilized documenting the growth of Little's garden.}

Monday, March 14, 2016

Comparison Is

I run intervals once a week at the track near our home. It's interesting running on a track with other people, going around and around the same circle, passing people and being passed. I find myself speeding up when I shouldn't or running longer than I should because--people. They could be watching!

It's hard not to compare myself to the other runners on the track. It's hard not to judge myself in contrast to them--am I faster? slower? have I been running longer? does my form look awful? should I stop wearing the Man's reject t-shirts? can they see my post-twin loose tummy skin flopping around over the waist band of my shorts? My self-consciousness takes over.

Here I am with Bee after a long run.
Note the Man's t-shirt.
Also, Bee really liked my braids.

And then I have to start telling myself truth.

First, comparison is the thief of joy. Good job, Teddy Roosevelt. You got that one right. When I'm spending all my time comparing myself to the other runners, I'm not enjoying the feel of the track beneath my shoes or the way my ponytail swishes against my neck as I run or the fact that four kids and a knee injury later I am still running.

Second, comparisons are odious. I learned this from Madeleine L'Engle, but it was first said by John Lydgate and then by Christopher Marlowe and John Dunne and a whole host of other people. And it's true too. There is nothing good in comparison--it's repulsive.

The pets think I smell.

And then I recognized another truth: at the track, I have no idea how long anyone has been running (or how long they plan to run). I have no idea what kind of training plan they are doing. They could be doing a tempo run while I do intervals. This could be their cool down after a long run. I also have no idea if they are coming off an injury or working through physical therapy or just getting back to exercising after a long hiatus due to who knows what or taking a down week before a big race. There are so many factors I just don't know...and so I am wasting my time comparing myself to them and thinking that I am going to come out of the experience with some kind of valid conclusion.

This is a metaphor. Because life is like this.

This is my running inspiration and also my best blog commenter.
She has run in over 30 countries and here she is hiking in the Himalayas,
which is why her face looks so cold.

We are all on the track together and most of the time we have no clue what the other person is doing or why. We can waste our time comparing ourselves, feeling self-righteous or completely crushed as the case may be, or we can just stop it.

It's sickening, really. Or odious, if you will. So here is my message to myself:

Those are not my kids (so maybe long division can wait for now). That is not my family (so I don't need to schedule that thing on that night). That is not my husband (maybe he doesn't actually have the desire for me to make him breakfast every morning from scratch). That is not my specific set of circumstances. That is not my life. And I am not that woman.

Here I am with my awesome running coach
who makes sure I don't injure myself by running too hard and too fast
and lovingly routes all my long runs so I don't have to.

But I don't want to end there. If we end with "stop comparing yourself to others", we flounder. There is an empty space not being filled. When we take out something bad, we must choose to fill it with something else. So what do we fill it with? Grace.

Here's the thing, last week, on my last two intervals, I saw one of my neighbors and offered her a word of encouragement as she too jogged around the track. And lo and behold, my last two intervals were my fastest--and it wasn't because I just wanted them over with (although that is a distinct possibility). I don't think this is inconsequential.

When we choose to encourage others, to offer them grace, we stop looking at ourselves, we stop comparing, and then there is transformation.

There are others on the track with you. You don't need to know what they're doing. You also don't need to explain that you had surgery in November and that there are four kids waiting for you at home so if you run until you kill yourself, that might be bad. And most of all, you don't need to compare yourself to them. Just offer them grace, a word of encouragement, a high five, or maybe a really painful runner's smile to show that we're all in this together.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

I Haiku While Running

This week, Littles learned about the haiku. We have daily poetry reading (because--did you know?--I am Mom), but finding a book about a cat named Won Ton that so happened to be written completely in haikus was just a lucky happenstance. We had fun reading the book about Won Ton, whose real name is Haiku, and talking about how we could write our own haikus.

Then, this morning while I was out for my run, I decided to rise to the (not very large) challenge. Running always encourages my creativity, and the haiku is short enough that I can remember the parts I want to keep and tweak the parts I don't. I would not, however, advise writing your own epic poem simply because then you'd have to stop running to write it down--which kills your run--and is challenging to do if you, like me, are running in the rain. Paper and pen plus lots of water and no sun up yet equal death.

Side note: another poetry form compatible with running: the limerick.

Working on something creative while running made my run go by faster, and then Littles and I had something fun to talk about while we were stuck in the hospital waiting room and he had "accidentally" forgotten his book bag full of school work. But these are little gems that occur when you ceaselessly plunder the hidden depths of your library and get your body and mind moving.

At any rate, here is Tiny holding Won Ton:

And here is my haiku:

Morning rain running
(Trigs doesn't like deep puddles)
Splish--in we go--splash!

Now go forth, get some exercise and create something fun! But if you write a limerick, don't start it with "there once was..." or I will make fun of you. And you will deserve it.

Also, can we please have a moment of applause for all the cute book models I keep finding around the house? Seriously now... Their dad provided some excellent genes.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Because I am Mom

Because I am Mom:

Sometimes there are pancakes for dinner--that get eaten at the kitchen counter instead of at the table so that there is an acceptable audience as I carefully sculpt really ugly alphabet pancakes.

Because I am Mom:

On rainy days, instead of holing up at home to do a super cute Pinterest craft (of which I am incapable), we brave the rain and browse a used bookstore...and then have to leave early because Bruiser blew out his diaper.

Because I am Mom:

We will touch ALL THE SNAILS! And take pictures of them. And put them in the garden. And name them Fredrick and Gunda and El Greco. And then do research to discover that maybe snails aren't the best thing to put in your garden. Whoops.

Because I am Mom:

There is popcorn and lemonade with mint leaves from the herb garden. There are daffodils and laundry baskets of folded laundry that you will put away yourself (so help me). There are open windows and stacks of books on every flat surface of our home.

Because I am Mom:

There is bedtime. And it comes early. But only after all the toys have been picked up.

Because I am Mom:

I am not a lot of other things. There is only one me. There are only 24 hours in a day. We pick and choose. And sometimes, in the words of Jen Hatmaker in For the Love, "We need to quit trying to be awesome and instead be wise."

So, I'll let the kids be awesome (because they're good at that--and also really good at biting each other and then apologizing afterward), and I'll get back to work on just being Mom.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Villains, Presidents, and Big, Bad Wolfs (Oh, My!)

It's been a while since we've had a good children's book post around here--and that is just a shame! (Yes, both italics and an exclamation point were entirely necessary.) Let's remedy that immediately.

You know how some people have life goals? Or bucket lists? Well, mine is largely made up of books that I want to read to my kids when they get older. Seriously.

Last week, I got to check a book off my list when the big boys and I read out loud A. A. Milne's classic, Once on a Time. It's a source of deep sadness to me that this book is not well known and required literature for every elementary school child. Hands down, Milne created the most fabulous villain of all time. The Countess Belvane: they just don't make them like that any more. And when I say "fabulous", I mean that in every sense of the word. Also: Wiggs. I want to give her all the hugs. If you haven't read this book yet, do yourself a favor: stop everything and remedy that immediately. It's free on Amazon kindle right now, and while I can't guarantee that it will include the fantastic Susan Perl illustrations (which, really, ARE AWESOME--caps necessary), at least you'll be able to leave with the magical poetry of King Merriwether:
Bo, bole, bill, bole
Wo, woll, will, wole.
Kings who start wars over breakfast and seven league boots, a princess whose power is usurped by a largess throwing countess, magic rings that turn princess into...something amusing, and so much more. You'll thank me later.

Belvane showing us how it gets done.

Continuing on with read alouds, the boys and I just plowed through Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator. (For the enquiring minds that want to know, we're now halfway through Skylark, the sequel to Sarah, Plain and Tall, which I am really enjoying re-reading as an adult, especially in regards to seeing Sarah and Jacob work out their marriage.) Littles and Tiny really enjoyed being back with Roald Dahl's Charlie and Willy Wonka, and we had a great time reading about shooting Knid's and Minus-Land, but my biggest take away was more on the political side, actually.

Now that you're all recovered from the heart attack of me talking politics on my blog, I'll just say this. If you are wondering even a little bit what it would be like to have Donald Trump for president, go read Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator. Except that it would be even worse, because Trump is a real person and not just stupid, the way the president in C&tGGE is. I meant to pull out some entertaining quotes (that become less entertaining the closer this election looms), but you may just need to go reread this one for yourself. Trust me and Shuckworth, Shanks, and Showler (they really did see a ten year old, four old people in nightgowns, and a big bed floating around in that glass "space shuttle").

Littles with Shuckworth, Shanks, and Showler.
Last, but not least, if you're looking for a fun, retold fairy tale for your littlest littles, pick up Teresa Heapy's Very Little Red Riding Hood. Bee, especially, enjoyed this one, but I had fun turning the tables on the twins by reading all of Very Little Red's lines in their voices. The below picture has Bee with my favorite line, "Not LELLO flowers. RED!" Because if I hear one more time that someone wants grapes only to be told they don't like grapes... Well, you get the point. But we enjoyed laughing our way through this one together. And then we all slept happily ever after. Naturally.

Bee wouldn't share her cakes with a wolf either.
Or anyone else.

At any rate, if you aren't spending a significant amount of your library time poking around in the children's section, maybe this will prod you out of your malaise. Children's books for the win! You know you want to...

Monday, March 7, 2016

Hope Is

Last week, Littles and I were reading Dickinson and ran up against her well known, "Hope is a thing with feathers..." and it got me thinking about hope again. This is nothing new. Overthinking the concept of hope is a continual source of mental gymnastics for me.

Today, hope is finally planting flowers only to find out that there might be a humongous storm coming through that might by accompanied by hail and might involve tornadoes.

Hope is writing a To Do list and holding it in open hands because nap times are sometimes hard to count on.

Hope is trying house plants again (even if Blythe might sit on them).

Hope is painting a wall of your rental only to realize, two weeks later, that you had made art out of a difficult memory and that somehow brought healing.

Hope is delicate but incredibly resilient. Hope is risky. Hope is often frustratingly accompanied by fear and thereby necessitates courage. Hope is hard. Somehow we choose to keep hoping.

Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the LORD. Psalm 31:24

Friday, March 4, 2016

One is Nice

One of the twins' favorite Sandra Boynton books, One Two Three, begins with the line "One is nice for a quiet walk" and progresses on through the numbers until "Ten makes a celebration LOUD LOUD LOUD!" which is kind of what I think our home feels like every day, even though we only have 4 kids. It's the introvert in me.

And because of the introvert in me, the Awesome Man has implemented a new family rule which is that if he comes home to find that the kids have left me frazzled like a frazzled thing (another Boynton quote for you), he mans bed time while I take the Trig-Dog for a walk. This works really well for everyone.

One, I enjoy my alone time. Two, Trigger gets more exercise happiness (endorphins make you happy, and happy dogs don't revenge poop on your carpet!). And three, the kids are highly incentivized to behave well during the day because when Mommy puts them to bed she is much more likely to be stalled by "Just read one more book, please?" than Daddy.

Fine, this works really well for everyone but the Man--who is selflessly stuck wrangling all four kids into bed without backup. He's a saint.

There are books that stick in your head, and One Two Three is one of them. Plus, the twins make me read it to them a lot. It's only beaten out for most often in their pre-bed book stack by the Ladybug Girl board books, Llama Llama Nighty Night, and Bruiser's trash truck book. Anyway, yesterday evening I was out with Trigs, walking under the red bud trees, and in my mind I had the final line of the book, "And one is wonderful after a crowd." And one, plus a dog, really is.

I love my children. I think they are fantastic kids, and I have a great time with them (you know, when they're not driving me batty), but I'm an introvert. It's part of my personality, and those moments when they are all asleep and I can regroup...are just wonderful.

Sometimes we make choices in life that we know are for the best--like choosing to stay at home with your kids (or choosing not to, for that matter). We pray over them, we agonize over them, and then we make them. And there are times when we feel so ill-suited to the choices that we have made (or the choices that have been made for us). We think that another person could do a better job, perhaps. Or that our talents and personalities would be put to better use elsewhere. Or that if just one aspect of our situation could be even slightly tweaked, maybe things would be better.

But I'm learning that God put me here, with these kids and these talents and these personality traits, for just this time. And he doesn't waste anything. And he doesn't want anyone else doing my job. And thankfully, he sent the Man to walk alongside me and help me be in this place at this time with these kids.

And he sent Trigger too, who, once he stopped chewing up my boots and escaping to joy-run around base all day, has turned into a pretty fantastic dog.

So, here's to full houses, children's books, husbands who help us practice self care, long walks with furry animals, and alone time.