Bloom

Reflecting on new beginnings with a poem from my days of new-motherhood:

Bloom

Love made manifest,
wrapped in a crimson
towel on the bed, cheeks
pinked like freshly scrubbed
apples. Rosy golden,
with a bloom
on the pristine skin.

My life new, too,
in this moment,
as though the morning
dawned at 5 in the afternoon.

What I’m Into: December 2013

I’m participating again in the What I’m Into series.  Here’s my mostly-books edition of highlights for the month of December.

Reading:

Dinner: A Love Story:  Jenny Rosenstrach chronicles her journey from newly-wed to experienced mom through learning to cook.  I enjoyed the way this memoir/cookbook used quite an eclectic variety of formats (letters, diagrams, memos, traditionally formatted recipes, lists, “conversational” recipe format, and so on) to relate her experience (perfect, by the way, for keeping in the bathroom for flipping through while the tikes bathed).  I especially related with the strategies for expanding kids’ palates, and appreciated the perspective of someone who had made it through the challenges of dinnertime in the “little years.” It encouraged me, once again, that time and maturity will do their work.  I got some good ideas for dinners, though the only recipe I tried (Green Fries, essentially breaded zucchini) was just ok in my opinion.

A Year of Learning Dangerously, Quinn Cummings: This is the only book I truly finished this month.  A former child actor, Cummings is also a writer and entrepreneur who decides to homeschool her elementary-aged daughter.  From her descriptions of her own  quirks to accounts of crashing a fundamentalist homeschoolers’ convention, this book was just plain hilarious.  But Cummings is also a sharp, literary writer who clearly loves words.  Irreverent and and yet ultimately respectful of all the various tribes united by the common commitment to home education.  An entertaining and thought-provoking read, not just for homeschoolers, or even parents, for that matter.

Love in a Time of Homeschooling, Laura Brodie:  The other homeschool memoir I picked up this month, I’m only half-finished with this one.  Brodie, a professor of English, pulls her daughter out of school for a “sabbatical,” with the intention of giving her a year of educational renewal before she starts middle school.  An interesting and inspiring look at another of the many ways homeschooling can take shape.

Watch for the Light: This was my first time with a book of Advent readings, and I read about a third of them.  An eclectic collection, featuring poetry, essays, and fiction excerpts, from such a wide range of writers.  This was a great discovery–challenging and provoking– this year as I thought more deeply about Advent and Christmas.  The Kathleen Norris and Henri Nouwen essays were particular favorites.

Our Fave Children’s books this month:

The Long, Long Line, Tomoko Ohmura: both kids enjoyed this one, but the toddler especially loved the queue of animals waiting for we-don’t-know-what until the end, which is really imaginative and fun.

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The Lorax: I somehow missed this Dr. Seuss book growing up.  A couple readings into it with E., he declared it a favorite.  It is a kind of melancholy book, but with a glimmer of hope at the end.  The Lorax “speaks for the trees” and creatures in his beloved home, which are being destroyed by the greedy Once-ler’s business.  This was great springboard for talking about greed, stewardship of creation, and the importance of relationship over things.  In this book more than others of Dr. Seuss’ I have read, he seems to be channeling Lewis Carroll; I’ve always had a soft spot for made-up words like “gruvvulous,” “snergely,” and “biggering.”  This last word is incredibly useful.  One caveat: I did censor a couple phrases as I went, along the lines of s-t-u-p-i-d, since my preschoolers are not yet ready to use those words responsibly.

A Giraffe and a Half: A Shel Silverstein book I wasn’t familiar with, but the kids predictably loved, with its litany of repetition, rhyme and silliness.

Happenings:

We had a lovely and simple Christmas, just the four of us.  Q didn’t have enough time off to travel anywhere, and we enjoyed keeping it simple.  The kids, till now, have been blessedly unaffected by the commercialism of the holidays; they really didn’t have any expectations, although after a couple different people gave them presents before Christmas day, even the one-year-old was hip to what those packages that appeared under the tree were for.  We had a very nontraditional simple dinner of mahi mahi with roasted red peppers and roasted potatoes, and my favorite moment was singing “Silent Night” with the kids.

Looking forward to a fresh start for this New Year!

The Holy Unhurry of Advent

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I had such high hopes for the Advent Calendar.  This was going to be the year that I Got It Together in time for Christmas,  The Making of the Calendar the first of many daily Christmas-related activities I hoped to accomplish.  When the kit arrived (all the reviews cheering in my head how Simple! Quick! Easy! and Fun! this was going to be), its precut adhesive-backed components ready to be affixed to the pocket-lined Christmas tree, we cleared the table.  The four-year-old immediately took over, carefully studying the accompanying diagram and applying the brightly colored felt pieces exactly as the example showed.  For an hour, I felt the blessed peace of unhurried being, as he worked and I admired his focus.

Then, he was ready to move on to something else, and we set the materials aside to finish later.  He pulled the whole assembly out several times over the next two days, each time for shorter sessions, and each time, leaving ever-increasing piles of felt stickers and scraps in his wake.

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I tried to ignore the voice in my head: if you were a better mom, you wouldn’t let him leave messes like this.  If you were more organized, this would be done already.  You should be more in control of this project.  Despite my attempts to counter argue, recognizing it as my own anxiety rearing its head, I nevertheless became more stressed with each day that we weren’t Finished-With-The-Calendar-So-We-Can-Celebrate-Advent!  We were into the second row of pockets by now, each passing day a reminder that I so didn’t Have it Together.  Behind again.

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I’m always feeling behind, a need to hurry and catch up, to do more.  That I don’t measure up, that I haven’t accomplished enough.

But the One Whose coming this season of Advent anticipates?  His time is relaxed.  Unhurried.  He had no problem with taking the time to gestate, starting his mission as a zygote and spending His first nine months of humanity simply being.  Content with receiving the love and nurture of a young mother, existing His only accomplishment.  When the Eternal One wove Himself into the fabric of time and space, He seemed to bring with Him His Outside-of-Timeness, as though, while choosing to be contained in a body, He nonetheless refused to be enslaved by Time.  For someone who didn’t start His ministry till the age of thirty and knew that He would only have about three years to accomplish His mission on Earth, He never allowed Himself to be rushed.

Contrast this with my constant anxiety to hurry and do more, to prove my worth, my value, by producing something.  Look at the essay I finished!  Look at the clean dishes!  Look at the pounds my baby has gained!  Look at my blog!  This!  I’ve produced this!  My life was of worth this day, because I accomplished, produced. 

Christ’s example to us, though, especially in this season, is simply to be.  To wait for His Father’s perfect timing. To become like an unhurried child, whose greatest “accomplishment” is receiving the love and care of the Heavenly Father.

The calendar is mostly finished.  Maybe someday I will cut out some felt numbers to fill in the ones that are missing.  But for now, it’s a reminder to me that the state of being is more important than the product.  That, for over an hour, my son and I were patient with each other.  That he exercised his focus and his stick-with-it muscles, and I exercised my let-him-figure-it-out muscles.  That we were together.  That, for an hour, we relaxed into the holy unhurry of this season of Advent.

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Giving Thanks

For dirty dishes, witness
that we have eaten today.
For puddles of water on the tile,
the overflow of drink and wash.
For pies minus an ingredient
because I have little someones
to distract me.
For the shrilling of the smoke
detector reminding me of the many
meals that have spattered this oven.
For the tension knots knitting my intentions
with my imperfections, the clash
of wills, and the reaching
of limits that brings prayer
to my lips.
For night wakings and sleep
deprivation, a body that works
nourishment for a baby, and knows
the cost of loving another.
For crayon scribbles on the walls, library
books on the floor, laundry lounging
a basket, grapes smashed
on a table in abundance,
the abundance, Oh, Lord,
the abundance of this life
and of Your grace.

What I’m Into: October 2013

What I'm Into at HopefulLeigh

What I’m Into: October 2013:

I’m excited to be joining along in this link-up at Leigh Kramer’s blog (thanks for the inspiration, Emily!) because I’ve been wanting for a while to record the books I read, including the best of the children’s books we’ve read.  It’s been fun and stimulating to keep track of what we’ve been up to this month. Here are some of the highlight.

Reading:

*I had to return Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly to the library since it was on hold for someone else, though I’d only finished about 2/3 of it.  But I wanted to mention it because it’s given me an entirely new and fascinating lens–vulnerability–through which to view both my behaviors as well as relationships.  I expect to write more in depth about it sometime; I’ve already started a few posts based on topics from the book.  Highly recommend, and hope to finish it soon.

*Reading Like a Writer, Francine Prose: emphasizes the kind of close reading that demonstrates how the masters craft their writing; makes me feel like I’m back in graduate school, but without the pressure.

*I’m chipping away at Ivanhoe.  I saw a British film version in high school, but have wanted to read it ever since one of my college roommates claimed it as her favorite book.  I get into it at times, and then hit a slow patch and set it aside for awhile.

*Malcolm Gladwell’s David and Goliath on Audible: Quint and I have been listening to this during car rides.  We’ve listened to several of his audio books on road trips and this one is really fascinating.  Based on the premise that what at first seems like a weakness can actually prove to be someone’s great advantage.  It has provided great fodder for our conversations.

*The Write Start, Jennifer Hallissy: E has started writing the letters of his name, pretty much out of the blue, and this book has great information and ideas for encouraging proper and creative writing at every stage of childhood.

Children’s Books: I’m pretty picky about children’s books; if I don’t enjoy it, I don’t want it in the house, because we’re going to be reading it at least 17 times a day till it goes back to the library (I’m talking to you, banal summary of a Batman movie that found it’s way into my canvas tote).

*Bedtime for Frances, Russel Hoban: The first couple times reading this to E at bedtime, I laughed out loud when Frances the badger sneaks into her parents’ bedroom and stands inches away from her sleeping father, staring silently till he wakes up.  Classic.

*Bee-wigged, Cece Bell: I didn’t have high expectations for this quirky book, but it had a surprise that made all of us laugh, and it is actually pretty sweet.

*Frog and Toad Together by Arnold Lobel on Audible: This is E’s choice whenever I offer to play an audiobook during lunch or while he’s doing some sort of art or craft-type play.  I never get tired of hearing Toad say that he can’t chase after his wind-blown List of Things-to-Do because chasing after the list is not one of the things on the list!

Listening: I used to daydream about being able to cherry-pick songs instead of having to buy entire albums; now I long for the time to experience a whole album at once!  Oh, well.  I’m embracing this time in my life when stopping to really experience a single song is accomplishment enough.

*The Vespers: discovered them through a Pandora’s children’s songs station with “All I Want is You.”  Yay for children’s songs that are enjoyable for the adults, too.

*Raffi’s version of “Octopus’s Garden”: I can’t tell you what a thrill it is to catch E singing a song to himself as he works away on a paper project or building blocks, and this one has been his most recent favorite.

*Neulore: “Shadow of a Man.”  I just really like this song.

*Robby Seay Band: “New Day”: when I need to start the day over at 3:57 pm.

*Melanie Penn: her song “Turnaround” has been in my head since I heard it on the Under the Radar podcast; the song is so well crafted I keep thinking about the ways the words, images, music, and metaphor work together.

*Ben Rector’s cover of Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance with Somebody” made me stop what I was doing in the kitchen and just listen.

*The Emerald City video series on Soulation’s Ruby Slippers blog: philosopher and apologist Jonalyn Fincher, whose book on the feminine soul was an engaging, inspiring read for me last winter, has been posting v-logs, some of them interviews, and I love tuning in when I get on the elliptical.  I love how she integrates the physical, cultural, relational and spiritual; her questions and insights are sharp and keep me thinking for a long time afterward.

In the kitchen:

*Indian Home Cooking, Suvir Saran: although I haven’t actually tried a recipe yet, I enjoyed reading  this cookbook and drooling over the recipes, particularly the vindaloo, which I plan to use as soon as I can get a hold of the whole spices required.

*Cauliflower Couscous: I’ve made Cauliflower “rice” a few times, but wanted to see if I could get good results with a simpler process, and I liked the results even more.  Just put some chunked-up cauliflower in the processor, pulsed several times till it resembles couscous, then saute for a few minutes in olive or coconut oil, maybe a little butter, and season to taste.

*I first tried these green olives a couple months ago and I am hooked.  They are fruity, kind of like ripe black olives, only fresher tasting.  I like them for a tide-me-over-till-dinner snack.IMG_0982

*flourless peanut butter bars (I’ve also tried them with almond and sunbutter) have been my go-to “healthy” treat this month: I decreased the honey a bit since our p.b. had some already, and they were great.

*It’s finally cool enough to use the oven, and so I’ve made pumpkin pies.  I usually use the recipe on the back of the can (Libby’s), doubled for two pies, but substitute one can of coconut milk for the two cans of evaporated milk (so about 1 cup of milk per pie instead of 12 oz.) and decrease the sugar.  I like the richer, denser filling that results from those changes, and even though Quint said, “Make it EXACTLY like this from now on,” last week, I’m experimenting with maple syrup and dates to see if I can get a version we like that’s free of refined sugar.

Doings:

*I purged my closet.  For.  Real.  I’ve made several attempts in the past year, always shutting down mentally and then returning most of my clothes to my closet and drawers.  This time I was ready to be ruthless, but needed moral support, so I begged enlisted my husband’s help and he empowered me to donate two garbage bags full of clothing that was ill-fitting, unflattering, unsuited for my daily life or otherwise Just-Not-Right.  He even cleaned the closet for me while it was empty.  It was a huge burden that seemed to be parked squarely on my shoulders for a long time, and now I know that I have exactly one pair of non-maternity jeans that have no holes and kind of fit.  I think I need a personal shopper.  Any takers??

*A couple weeks ago, I made the goal of playing my guitar every day, even if only for five minutes.  It’s been a gratifying outlet.

*We visited the pumpkin patch with friends.

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*The Spoonk: Quint’s sister had one of these acupressure mats when we visited them this summer, and Quint immediately ordered one and uses it almost every day to decompress.  I didn’t think I would get much use out of it, but I really enjoy lying on it and listening to a few moments of music after the kids go to bed to help myself relax.  It breaks up some of the tension in my back and helps me transition to bedtime.

*We’ve made story time at the library part of our routine, and it’s been great.  My high-energy preschooler sits engaged with the stories and finger-play songs, and brags to his daddy later that he’s the “quietest thing in the room!”  (quoting from recent fave Bedtime for Frances).  And just when his younger brother has reached the limit of his attention span, they break out the puppets, to his delight and my relief.

Looking forward to November!

PS, this post took me longer than I expected to complete; my husband says when it comes time to record what I did in  November, I can just say I did a blog post about October 🙂