Changing Plans

IMG_1433

A few weekends ago, we headed out for a drive through the country, looking forward to open vistas, an extended conversation, a walk in the country.  We passed a small stone church on the outskirts of the county, one that seemed anomalous in our corner of the southwest.  I’d like to get a picture of that, I mused aloud, and, careful what you wish for, the next thing we drove over a jagged piece of metal that planted itself in the front tire of our van.  So we pulled off into the parking lot directly across from the little chapel where all three boys assessed the damage and proceeded to change the tire.

In his book Margin, Richard Swenson, M.D., talks about having the space and time to be interrupted, particularly by God, in our lives; that sometimes the most important thing that will happen in the day isn’t on our agenda.  This was one of those times; our outing didn’t go as we had planned, but it was quality time together, all of us learning, and I had the opportunity to record it.

IMG_2413 IMG_2462 IMG_2477 IMG_2496

IMG_2501

Donut grin.

IMG_2371

This takes serious effort.

IMG_2448

IMG_2441IMG_2504

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

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.

IMG_2127

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.

IMG_0724 IMG_1886

IMG_1842

*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 🙂

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

Plan B: Lazy Saturday Cinnamon Rolls

Cinnamon rollsThere are Plan A days, and Plan B days.  When my four-year-old came cranky into my bedroom with coughs and sniffles before the light reached my eyelids Saturday morning, I knew it would be a Plan B day.  We curled up on the couch with library books and honey tea.  A couple years ago, I read a tip in a book on organizing to create both the routine you want to keep most of the time–Plan A– as well as the frame of a back-up plan you can default to when life throws you curves (the fact that we keep buying books on organization and simplifying should be the subject of its own post!)

And life with little ones, at least for me, means falling back on Plan B, oh, about every other day.  For us, that means guarding peace in our home by lowering my expectations for how much I’ll get done, staying home and playing in the backyard, reading lots of books, and making naps the Number One Priority.  Come to think of it, my Plan B is not that much different from Plan A, except I get even less done.

IMG_1314

Fortunately, I had put together cinnamon rolls the night before since we had family in town for the weekend (yay for extra people to entertain the kids while I work in the kitchen!)  Just don’t be all eager-beaver like me and not give them time to come to room temperature before sticking them in the oven–they took an extra fifteen minutes to cook that way, and I had to babysit them to make sure they got cooked all the way through without getting overdone.  And be warned: Don’t expect to have a Very Productive Day when you make cinnamon rolls for breakfast.   They make me want to curl up under a blanket and read all day.  Good thing we have Plan B for just that contingency.

IMG_1323
presentation may not be my strong suit, but I didn’t hear any complaints

*I used this recipe, found in Eat with Joy, by Rachel Marie Stone, with about half bread flour and half whole wheat, sifted of most of its bran.  I made the recipe through shaping the rolls and put the pan in the fridge overnight.  I skipped the cream cheese frosting for a small amount of buttercream frosting.