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.

IMG_1314

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!

Grace to Show Up: a Guest Post for A Feast of Crumbs

I wrote a guest post for my good friend Emily Luna’s wonderful blog, A Feast of Crumbs, where she chronicles her spiritual journey one breadcrumb at a time.

I feel like I keep failing the Sunday morning test. The one where I’m supposed to get myself and the two kids ready and out the door for church without yogurt smears on my skirt or sweet potatoes caked in their hair, and without going all Crazy-Mom on the four-year old when he strips his pants and underwear off to go potty and will not be wrangled back into them 20 minutes past our departure goal. The one where I’m supposed to show up on time…

Head over to her blog to read the rest, and while you’re there, check out Emily’s beautiful writing, too!

The Holy Unhurry of Advent

IMG_1242

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.

IMG_1239

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.

IMG_1240

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.

IMG_1243

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.

Not What You Would Expect: A Post for the Jesus Feminist Synchroblog

Yeast is an incredible thing.  Set out a jar of water mixed with some flour, wait a couple days, and if the environment is not too hot or too drafty, you’ll catch some wild yeast, the evidence of which will be thousands of tiny bubbles breaking the surface of the gluey mass, and an aroma of fermentation, beery and sweet, tingly and tickling.  Tantalizing.  Something entirely new.

Throughout most of the Bible, yeast usually symbolizes something that is evil, or unclean, as in “Be on guard against the yeast of the Pharisees.”  This makes sense in a culture that saw threats of ceremonial uncleanness in the very air surrounding them.  Contamination from non-Jews, women, the diseased and the infirm lurked around every corner.

But Jesus turned this metaphor completely on its head; Jesus– the One Who is willing to get His hands dirty in the sticky mess of the human experience, Who affirms the sick, the women, and the children that touch Him– this God compares His Kingdom to a tiny microorganism whose life and work no one of that time would have been able to observe except by its effect:  “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough.” (Matthew 13:33)

Jesus knew exactly what He was doing in using this parable; not only did He choose one of the most quotidian of examples to illustrate how His Kingdom works, but more importantly, He chose one that would have applied almost exclusively to the women of that time and would have been intimate to their daily experience: the task of preparing food.

The process of slow, steady growth and transformation, though mysterious, would have been immediately understood by the women listening to him.  As the yeast does its work, it completely transforms the surrounding landscape, leaving something entirely new in its wake.  I can almost hear their stomachs rumbling at the mention of bread, see the astonishment on their faces as this Rabbi speaks their language–the language of preparing meals– without irony, without deprecation.  With honor and dignity.  Something entirely new. 

Jesus’s attention and respect for women in using this parable is not what you would expect.  Is it some kind of anomaly of his ministry, not to be repeated or followed upon?  On the contrary, Jesus, is seen again and again showing women and other devalued people of the day loving respect and radical mercy.

God’s Kingdom, like yeast.  Bubbling, overflowing.  Rising up, much like the Living Water Jesus described to a Samaritan woman He met at a well.

I remember the sense of revelation I felt when I came to the account of Jesus’ encounter with this particular woman while reading the gospel of John during my sophomore year.   As the professor of my Introduction to Theology class had pointed out, Jesus is constantly telling everyone to keep things quiet during His ministry, practically running from the crowds, avoiding being heralded, definitely not calling attention to Who He was.  But here, in the middle of this conversation at a dusty well in Samaria, He revealed to this woman– someone of the wrong gender, wrong ethnicity, and wrong history according to the cultural norms of the time, someone whose testimony wasn’t even valid in a court of law– that He was the Messiah.

It stopped me in my tracks. Was this– a woman– the person to whom Jesus first reveals Himself?

I shuffled the pages of my Bible and started examining the other Gospels to see if what I had noticed was really true: that Jesus first reveals Who He is to a woman, not only a Samaritan, but a woman who, most likely despised for her personal history, people went out of their way to avoid.

But Jesus doesn’t avoid her.  At a time when Jews often crossed a river to avoid stepping foot in Samaria, and men, especially rabbis, avoided even talking to women, He meets her there and asks her for a drink. He not only dares to do what no other self-respecting Jewish man of that time would, but he chooses her– a woman– to be the first person entrusted with the truth of Who He is: the long-awaited Messiah.  It’s not what you would expect.

I wasn’t confident in my own research, so I timidly asked my professor in the journal we were each required to keep for the class if this were true.

Yes!  You are right!  

With my professor’s words scrawled in blue ink across the top of my notebook, Jesus’ love and His Kingdom grew a little more wonderful to me.

This seemingly small action on Jesus’ part was truly revolutionary, not unlike a small bit of yeast working its way through an entire batch of dough, making everything different and new.  Understanding started rising in my heart: Jesus chose a woman to be the first to bring His good news.  And like a small amount of yeast, this woman’s encounter with Jesus spread to those around her, until many others in her region believed because of her testimony.  My experience of Who Jesus is and His great love and the way His Kingdom works, began to be transformed.  Something entirely new.

Not what I expected.

————–

This post is part of a synchroblog coinciding with the release of Sarah Bessey’s new book Jesus Feminist.

 

Halloweening

IMG_1993

This was the first year the kids dressed up, since I’ve never been with-it enough in the past.  We don’t celebrate Halloween so much as my husband “guards our home” by appeasing all the ghouls and princesses that ring our bell with handfulls of candy.  And if he can play a trick–like pulling my sister’s beauty school mannequin head out of the bag of candy–all the better.

IMG_1043

I spent a good chunk of the afternoon putting together simple costumes for Thing 1 and Thing 2 from the Cat in the Hat. I was aware of the PBS cartoon–we’d seen it on vacation–but our main inspiration was from the book we’ve had since E was a baby, which we have memorized and randomly quote from quite often: “you SHOULD not fly KITES in a HOUSE, you should NOT!” and …”we can have lots of good fun that is funny!” For such a simple project, I spent way too much time trying to get the blue maribou boa glued to the beanie hat in such a way that a) it would still fit over the kids’ heads, and b) that the “hair” didn’t end two-thirds of the way down the hat. I was bracing myself for a Pinterest fail, but finally, I had the inspiration to put the hat on something round to stretch it out while I wielded my newly acquired hot glue gun. That chemical smell of melting glue (which I can only suppose is what the warning on the package was referring to when it said “contained chemicals known to cause cancer…” !!!) took me back to many a Girl Scout craft. The only thing I had approximating the size of a child’s head was a smallish pie pumpkin, and though it was a little too big, it worked.

E loved his costume (and he was emphatic that he should be #2); baby brother J was ecstatic for about two minutes, during which we blitzed him with camera flashes trying to get a Calendar Picture.  He then turned irate and wanted nothing to do with the hat. We didn’t end up taking the kids trick-or-treating, just handing out candy. But they were excited enough to answer the door and greet the other kids (and way-too-old for trick-or-treating adults) brandishing bags for candy. Pretty early in the night E went off-script and started introducing  himself as Super Thing 2, and then saying “Super Thing 2 to the Rescue!” He then demonstrated by zooming around the living room. We definitely picked the right costume.

IMG_2005 IMG_1994

IMG_2000

this is the face J makes when we say, “Smile!”

IMG_2008

Three, two, one….

IMG_2011

Aaand…. meltdown.

IMG_1032

Release

A poem is never finished, only abandoned.
Paul Valery, French critic & poet (1871 – 1945)

I prefer to think of it as releasing, as opposed to abandoning. And just as with parenting, writing is a series of releases, with the understanding that we’re never completely finished. Where writing is concerned, I love revision–re-seeing–and, being a detail-oriented person, I could fine-tune forever. (This is one of my challenges with blogging–just getting something out there, even–especially–when it isn’t as polished as I would like.)  And I hope that with my parenting, as with any aspect of my life, I will always be fine-tuning myself, adjusting for the better.

Release

Poems, like children, will expose
you, lay you bare
in intimate vulnerability,
and for a few moments
that comprise an eternity
you won’t care
who sees.
Held inside,
gestating for weeks of days
till the body can’t hold them
anymore, and they come
barreling out so perfect-turned
you can’t believe
you had anything at all
to do with it.
You must tend
with intention, but if you try
to control them too much
they rebel or fall
flat. They’ll frustrate, even scare
you sometimes, mirror
and shine you just a little
too vividly for your own
comfort. You can hold them
in your heart, repeat
and turn their names, their words,
over in your mouth,
savoring the growth
and discovery.
But once they are out
there, in the world,
they live their own lives,
a future, you hope, beyond
your own.

Peace

Sea Change

My son is all squall and blast,
howling at the pancakes
on the table, and I am rage
rather than compassion
for his tired state.  I slam
the plate and leave, but
there’s no abandoning
ship when you are the storm.
I thunder the hallway and throw
a defiant demand at the ceiling, God
help me! 
I expect
nothing.
But then, just as sudden
as the gale had rolled in,
Grace.
A change
in the climate,
a softening and calm
as though the swells
surging between
my shoulders just
dropped.
Peace, 
be still, spoken over the torrents
and tangle of waves.
My son sniffs and relaxes,
starts to eat, and I
breathe.

Several weeks ago, we escaped to a nearby lake for a few hours.  It was mostly peaceful, cooler and grayer than we usually get around here, and plenty of fresh air for breathing deep.

IMG_1579IMG_1542 IMG_1487 IMG_1462 IMG_1460 IMG_1466IMG_1590IMG_1580

Joy in the Desert

IMG_1089

Rain is always a gift here in the desert.  I hope I will never complain about rain again after having experienced droughts regularly lasting most of a year.  We had four days of rain in row last week–and I don’t mean the kind of sudden dumping of buckets of rain that lasts 15 minutes and is gone, the hallmark of monsoon season in the desert.  These were gray days filled with oceans of clouds and rain lasting most of the day.  It was very strange and wonderful.  My favorite kind of day.

IMG_1098

Where I lived in Michigan, rain smelled of worms–an earthy, fermented, sweet-gone-sour– a warning to anyone thinking of walking barefoot in the rain to watch where you placed your foot.

IMG_1086

Rain in the desert, though?  The epitome of fresh– cleanly sweet, as though the rain were falling for the very first time.  It washes the dust out of the air, pulls the heat from the xeriscaped yard, shimmers down the windows, bounces the rock walls and slicks the streets.  We never think to do a rain dance in all the dry weeks beforehand, only after it comes, as celebration.  I can’t help clapping and exclaiming with the kids, “Look!  Rain!”

IMG_1074

But there’s always a part of me that slips out of the moment, either to lament the inevitable return of arid days or simply to be discontent and wish the rain would last for a week.   I don’t fully inhabit this joy, relaxing into the moment, the way my children know how to.

IMG_1050

They know how to receive, how to let the gift fall into their hands.  They naturally look up, thankful.  They seem to intuit that every good and perfect gift comes from above, and accept such grace with unbounded pleasure and delight.

IMG_1066 IMG_1070

Photography as meditation

IMG_1415

The camera has given me a new way to see, even as I close one eye and narrow my vision to that which fits in the viewfinder: an opportunity to focus on the small, the unobtrusive in my life.  My eyes rest on a still life they’ve glanced over a hundred times.  I experiment with holding my breath to steady my hands.  Inhale, click, exhale. Inhale, exhale, click.

As a novice, I have to slow down, observe the light quality and any shadows, focus the lens with attention, consider how I want to frame the image.  This is not second nature, and it’s an opportunity to be patient, first of all with myself.

It’s helping me notice the small graces of the imperfectly folded stack of clean dish cloths my four-year-old offered,  a mother dove nested safely in our palm tree, the sunlight blooming in my baby’s hair, wild curls that mimic mine, their wonder at watching street construction.

The everyday extraordinary.

This is grace: there is no need to perform, just the gift of eyes being opened to see and give thanks.

IMG_1331IMG_1413 IMG_1409 IMG_1388 IMG_1359 IMG_1354IMG_1393IMG_1418