Questions versus Resolutions

I am finding it more helpful lately to ask questions than make resolutions.  I don’t need another list of shoulds.  Sure, I have goals.  But right now I need joy more than I need progress, and nothing is surer to suck the joy out of life than a giant list of check-boxes.

I’m always asking questions anyway; I’m just trying now to discipline my mind to make room for certain questions each day.

How can I practice self-care today?
How can I nurture my family today?
Who can I encourage?
How can I preserve peace, and foster simplicity today?

One Word for 2014: Joy

On one recent occasion when I remorsefully apologized for essentially blowing up at my four-year-old for being an annoying, over-tired, wired and immature little human boy, E. nodded and mmm-hmmmed as I listed my transgressions. Then he spoke soft prophet-words: the way to not be bad is to just relax (pronounced wuh-lax, in case you were wondering).

I’ve been turning those words over and over in my head the past couple weeks, considering them from different angles as I’ve reflected on goals and what kinds of changes I want to make. Relax wasn’t the exact word I wanted to focus on for this year, a’ la Oneword365, but it lead me to a few.  The word I keep circling back to, though, as I consider a central theme for this year is joy.

Some broad-strokes for how I want this word Joy to color 2014:

I want to not stress out so much, to relax into the joy of being with my little ones.

I want them to remember me smiling, rather than scowling, in their young years, to have a deep, abiding sense of being delighted in and loved for who they are.

I struggle with discontent; I want not only to find God’s grace in each moment but also take joy in every circumstance.

I want to clear away the extraneous, the clutter and dross–physical, mental, and emotional–that are obstacles to nurturing my relationships and doing the things I enjoy.

Taking care of myself is a challenge and sometimes, I hate to admit, a chore as a mama of littles. I want to revive some of the ways of self-care that have brought me joy in the past, as well as find new ones in this season.

Cooking and food has not involved much joy lately, a result of the combination of too much information, too many choices, and too little energy.  I want to worry less, and eat with joy.

Joy seems like a good antidote to perfectionism, and I want my goals to be process-focused as I learn, grow, and practice this year; however much or little I accomplish or produce, I will take joy in the process, knowing my Heavenly Father sings over me with joy.

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!

What I’m Into: November 2013

I’m linking up again with the What I’m Into series at Leigh Kramer’s blog this month.  Can’t believe November has come and gone already!

Reading:

*The Truth About Style, Stacy London: I requested this book from the library thinking I needed some advice on what to add to my wardrobe after a big closet purge last month.  I was surprised how engaging a read this was.  Stacy’s trademark acerbic humor made it hilarious, and her willingness to be vulnerable about her own struggles, all the while helping several different women with their style challenges, made it relatable.  And of course, I got tons of pointers for working on my own style.  It’s given me a lot to think about beyond what to wear.

*I’m partway through Will Write for Food, by Dianne Jacobs, which covers all aspects of writing about food–cookbooks, blogs, memoir, and more. When I read Julia Child’s memoir, My Life in France, a few years ago, I noted the scientific obsession with which she repeated recipes and took notes of her results, and I realized that as much as I love to cook I do not have the temperament for recipe development.  I appreciate accurate recipes, but I am not willing to do that kind of research and experimentation myself.  So, probably no cookbooks in my future (unless, like Gwyneth Paltrow, I get someone to follow me around the kitchen measuring things while I cook).   However, I still find myself writing about food often.  This book is full of great information, much of it just having to do with good writing, period.  I found the writing prompts useful, and recommend this for anyone who is interested in the intersection of writing and food in any way, shape, or form.

*A Year of Writing Dangerously, Barbara Abercrombie: this book is a collection of motivational readings and quotes intended to get you writing.  I confess that I can almost never read one day’s reading at a time, and I read most of this book like a novel, which pretty much defeats its purpose.  But in my defense, it was a library book that had to be returned, and I especially like reading about various writers’ habits and rituals.

*Eat, Drink, and Be Merry: Poems About Food and Drink, edited by Peter Washington: I don’t read nearly enough poetry lately, so I took this pocket-sized book on our trip to the mountains this month.  It’s a very accessible and fun little collection.

*I’m almost finished with Jesus Feminist, by Sarah Bessey.  It is not an argument so much as a celebration of how Jesus treats women, what women bring to His Kingdom, and how we can better reflect His great love.  Her conversational tone is inviting, her lyrical style inspiring, and her words encourage me to ask how I can love others better.

*My lovely friend Emily has started a new spiritual blog, A Feast of Crumbs, and it has been one of my favorite things to read this month.

Children’s Books:

*William’s House, by Ginger Howard: this was a wonderful find about a man building a house for his family in 1637 New England just like the one he grew up in back in England.  With each season in New England, they discover a new need and make adjustments to their house, until, finally, their home is entirely different, suited to their new home in America.  I loved this book because not only was it a sweet story, it occasioned so many discussions about what life was like hundreds of years ago, who the the first European settlers were, differences in architecture and homebuilding, and the development of our country…  I even learned that horn was used in windows when glass wasn’t available.  Who knew?

*Jethro and Joel Were a Troll, by Bill Peet: I have fond memories of borrowing Bill Peet books from the library when I was little, though this one was new to me the first time we borrowed it.  E. grabs it whenever he sees it.  A two-headed troll with two very different personalities goes on Joel’s long-desired rampage, and in making restitution they discover a new talent for building.  It’s a perfect illustration of how everyone needs creative, constructive work that makes use of their talents and energy (and keeps them out of trouble–ahem).

*We also (re)discovered Where’s Waldo this month.  E. has been winding down for bed with the one we borrowed from the library, and even fallen asleep a couple times with it.  I never realized before, though, that almost all the scenes are just big chaotic fights…

*The Cat in the Hat Comes Back, Dr. Seuss: with how much we love the first book, this one of course has been a big hit the past couple weeks.

Listening:

*Audrey Assad’s Fortunate Fall: I’ve loved her music since her first album referenced a Gerard Manley Hopkins poem (!).  This worship project has been like a balm for me the past few weeks; the music embodies the peaceful waters of the 23rd Psalm woven throughout so many of the songs.   The album manages to bring together quite varied influences –hymn, contemporary worship, medieval sounding chords in at least one song, as well as Assad’s own singer-songwriter style; but all seem of a piece and fit well together musically.  Lyrically, she is amazing: lines like “strange and sweet collision of justice and mercy” create beautiful poetry and yet manage to be unforced and natural.  Just lovely.

*One of my college poetry professors, Jack Ridl, gave an inspiring TEDx talk!  It was a joy and an encouragement to listen to “Perfectly Imperfect.”

In the Kitchen:

*Well-Fed 2, Melissa Joulwan: I got this cookbook with the intention of cleaning up our eating before the holidays. Everything looks amazing, all made with real food.  So far, I’ve only tried a meatball recipe, which was delicious.  The book also inspired me to look into getting a spiralizer.  I have a weakness for kitchen gadgets, so I was wary of adding what is essentially a one-trick pony to my already-too-big collection.  But my vegetable-eschewing preschooler has eaten zucchini noodles several times since getting one, so it has been worth every penny.

Doings:

*I turned 32 this month.  31 went out with a bang, as I got sick with a nasty stomach bug the night before my birthday.  Come the morning of my birthday, I was just grateful I didn’t have to go to the E.R. (Thank you, Emetrol!)  E. and my sister were sick, too, so my valiant husband nursed us all on his day off.  Then, a week later, he and the baby got sick in time for Thanksgiving.  So we spent the last third of the month sick or recovering.  Hopefully we are done with illness for a long time.

*We got a snowstorm, and snow that stayed for an entire day, which is rare here.  E. exclaimed, “I’ve been waiting all year for snow!”  Me, too, Bud.  Me, too.

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Retreat

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I did not grow up with mountains; my first hike was on a spring break mission trip to Oklahoma with other students from my college.  On that hike, the pastor, who guided us as we scrambled over boulders and braced ourselves against incredible gusts of wind, led us in a psalm once we were at the top: “I lift my eyes up to the mountains; where does my help come from?”  We seemed cocooned at the top of that mountain, the wind dying down and a small chorus of voices weaving the melody around us.  Ever since, I have sung that to myself on hikes.

We have been in need of just such a cocoon– rest, a retreat from the stress of the past couple months, and quantities of quality time as a family.  The woods in these mountains are cool and crisp, the pine inviting for wandering hikes, the deer accommodating of small budding naturalists.    Our first day in the mountains, E said, “I like the cabin; it’s quiet, we can talk and be together, and we can hear things.”  I couldn’t have said it better myself.

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Sneaking behind the fence for a closer look.

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Trying to smile for the camera.

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Bears are his other recent fascination.

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