Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Leapin' Lovelies!

Happy Leap Day, everyone!

It rolls around but once a quadriennum, so how could we not have a bit of fun with it?

I found this idea on Pinterest just in time this week. Of course, not being much of a craft wizard myself, I had to adapt. (I glue-gunned the felt to one of those cheap plastic mask thingies you buy at Michael's.)


Oh, and I made two more and trimmed the noses, more like the original (see below). They were a bit more froglike I think. (Is there an adjective connoting "froglike?" Enlighten me.) And I'm linking up with Pam at Pinning It Down this week.


Original idea:
Source: etsy.com via Michelle on Pinterest


Also. Anne, this is for you. Thank you for not letting me be the only 34-year-old in America to have this done.


Hey, did you know that the safest place to get your ears pierced is actually a tattoo/body piercing studio? It's true. And while such places are, shall we say, not exactly my milieu, I suppose we'll chalk it all up to the grand adventure of life -- one of the many experiences made more palatable by the presence of an intrepid and enthusiastic friend, who laughed in the face of my needle fears.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Hunting for a Home

Have I mentioned that we might be relocating?

Nothing too exciting, of course, especially compared to our operational understanding for the Professor's four years in his Ph.D. program -- that his job, when he secured one, would yank us away from our beloved city and, for better or worse, offer us the opportunity to settle somewhere else. Now, we're here for the foreseeable future, living in a home that we bought with very much of a hunker-down-for-four-years mentality.

Our home is in a very desirable, but older, area of our city. It's super convenient to nearly everything, and we've been able to make it with one family car and one commuter bike for six years now. Besides the location, there are things about the house itself that we love. We have some great neighbors (and some we rarely see). We have a lovely yard with room for chickens, about which no one bothers us. We have trees and gardens. We have solid construction.

On the other hand, we have yellow laminate countertops and brown appliances. We have bathrooms that clearly bespeak their age. We have ... other issues. As Ian put it the other day, "Our house is vintage!"

With the right amount of time, funds and elbow grease, this house could be a DIY-er's paradise.

There's reason to renovate, even though it turns out we can't really pass for DIY-ers, and we both have full-time jobs. But, you know what? I think the honest, just-between-you-and-me truth is that my heart has never been in this house.

I know that as a Christian, that's probably ideal. We're tent dwellers, right? Just passing through. Our eternal home lies elsewhere. A house is ... well, just a house.

On the other hand, as a Christian, I think our desire for a home that expresses who we are -- a place where we feel at rest, a place that's pleasing to our particular eyes -- reflects the heart of our Creator. He, too, desires a home -- and won't be satisfied until He gets it. It's called Zion -- the built-up church.

After weeks -- months, really -- of dabbling discussions, we went and visited a house last weekend, in a newer neighborhood not far from ours. What's the harm in looking? we thought. Well, here's the harm:

- We developed a crush on that house.
- We discovered the market there is so hot that we can't put down a "contingency offer." We'd need to sell our current home, or at least be very close, before offering there.
- The one child who toured with us fell in love with it (and the pond across the street) in about ninety seconds flat and mourned loudly all the way home once the situation became clear regarding that particular house and our particular timing. It was THE BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT IN THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD.
- Another child of ours wailed loudly all the home over the whole idea of moving anywhere. It is, clearly, THE WORST IDEA IN THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD.

Good times.

And I woke up the next morning consumed with thoughts about the process and a mild case of Looker's Remorse. But I opened my Bible and lo, this verse presented itself: "O Lord, You have been our dwelling place in all generations." (Psalm 90:1).

Call me materialistic, but I have a hankering for a place that's restful, beautiful, spacious (but not too much bigger than what we have), full of light, new, perfect for serving people, and available at exactly the right time.

Turns out I have a Christ who is restful, beautiful, spacious, full of light, always new, perfect for serving people, and available at exactly the right time. Which is now. Which is always.

The struggle continues. I feel the tug, knowing that house will be gone before we can claim it, knowing I need to trust that that means there is a house that's even better for us, just waiting in the wings. Yet every tug at my heart pulls me toward a place of restful, peaceful, deeper faith. I don't really mind the struggle, because I can see the destination.

And it feels like Home.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Book Detectives Discuss "Lentil"

A while back, I mentioned that my friend Stefani and I had started a "Book Detectives" club with our collective half dozen chilluns. Today I thought I'd share some details from our second meeting, just to satisfy all curiosity, idle and otherwise.

May I remind you that those six chilluns are a pretty gingery bunch. As a group, their favorite activities tend to be Minecraft, video games, Nerf gun battles, hide-and-seek, and lots of yelling.


But you have girls, you say. Surely they exert a gentling influence.

Fuhgeddaboudit. 

So, to get this bunch to sit relatively still for, say, 45 minutes and FOCUS, while keeping jokes and non sequiturs down to a dull roar can sometimes be a labor worthy of Hercules. All that to say, if we can pull this off with our kiddos, I bet just about anyone can! Ultimately, we'd like to have a few more members, but for now, we're just greasing the wheels.

For this meeting, our second, Stefani led the discussion and I hosted. She chose to read the book Lentil, by Robert McCloskey, with them. At this stage, we're still using picture books for our discussion, as we get a handle on literary structure and terms. Besides, don't the best picture book couch profound truths in the simplest terms?


Stefani gave the kids a bit of background on Robert McCloskey, who wrote the book in 1940, between the Great Depression and World War II. She asked the kids for ideas about what childhood would be like during and after the Great Depression -- my girls thought of Kit Kittredge and her egg-selling endeavors.

After reading the book aloud amid squeals over the name "Lentil" for a boy, we began building our story structure, using the Socratic method of dialoguing with the kids.


Exposition
Setting: 1940, Ohio, a small town ("a podunk!" one of the kids called it).
Characters: Lentil (can't sing, can't pucker, persistent, resourceful, can play harmonica); Old Sneep (grumpy, doesn't seem to work, sucks on lemons -- "He sucks!" -- Badabing, badabing); the Colonel (generous, fought in the war, very important to the town, etc.)

Rising Action
This is when the story's main problem develops. In this case, the town is all a-twitter about the arrival of the Colonel from the war, but Old Sneep claims the Colonel is nothing special and wants to prove it.

Climax
This is the moment when, for better or worse, we know the problem will be resolved. Here, Old Sneep sucks on a lemon during the colonel's grand entrance, causing all the town musicians to pucker up in unison. Lentil steps up during a terribly awkward moment to play his harmonica.

Denouement [pause for children to show off their exaggerated French accents]
The problem (conflict) is being resolved. Here, the colonel smiles and laughs, and so does the town. Everyone heads for the colonel's house in a joyous parade -- even Old Sneep.

Resolution
Lentil realizes how his harmonica playing has come in handy after all, since he didn't need to be able to pucker in order to play it, and his inability to pucker meant that he wasn't affected by Old Sneep's sabotage.

Then we talked a bit about Theme. Was Robert McCloskey trying to tell the children of the Great Depression that all their problems would be solved by learning to play the harmonica? We all agreed: Probably not. On the other hand, couldn't he be suggesting that hardships, seasoned with a bit of persistence and resourcefulness, could ultimately turn out to be helpful? Quite possibly.

We had a quick discussion of Protagonist vs. Antagonist. The protagonist isn't ALWAYS the main character, but since it's the character who pushes the main action (theme) forward, it often is. The antagonist, of course, pushes that action back. In this case, the kids all agreed on Lentil, the cheerful hard worker, as the protagonist and Old Sneep, the grumpy bench-warmer, as the antagonist.


Finally, we invited the kids to share their current reading and to take a stab at naming the protagonist and antagonist in each of their books. Did you know that it's not so easy to identify a protagonist or antagonist in The Berenstain Bears? Just something to think about as you're lying awake tonight.

It amazes me how quickly kids can pick up what's really going on in a book. All boisterousness aside, they're truly getting the hang of how to look more closely at a story, and it's great fun to volley with them and hear what comes out of their mouths (most of the time). Thanks to the great suggestions from Deconstructing Penguins, Teaching the Classics, and the Mt. Hope Book Detectives for sending us on our way!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Why I Do It

This is why I drag myself out of bed before dawn on Sunday mornings for weeks at a time.

This is why I make myself get out there when no one else is watching.

This is why I'm limping today.



This is why I felt ready to burst with exultation at some moments, running to the soundtrack of "The Battle" from Narnia as a thousand or more runners spread out in front of me and my feet wanted to go, go, go.

This is why tears of joy burned in my eyes, and why at moments I laughed out loud.


And why I fought back tears of discouragement and fatigue on that last, steep hill at Mile 11.8.

This is why I grabbed Vanessa's hand and said, "Let's do this."

And why we put one aching foot in front of the other, quite sure we'd never do this again.

This is why we'll do it again.


'

And do you know why else I do this?
These guys.


I want my children to realize that by adding diligence to Christ's strength, they, too, can do hard things. I also want them to know that while I love them with the force and depth and endurance of a mother's affection, they are not the entire world upon which my personal sun rises and sets. In fact, it is because I love them that I choose not to be emptied and lost and swallowed up in them.

Does that sound strange?
It is actually my gift to them.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Tomorrow's Half Marathon: How You Can Help

... Because I know you're just dying to be part of the action -- and also because, while I hate asking anyone for money, I have no shame when it comes to asking for other forms of support -- here's the skinny on how to give my training buddies and me a boost tomorrow morning during the Austin Livestrong Half Marathon.

(Packet pickup with Vanessa ... and all our kids. My girls are inspired to train for a 1K now. They loved the expo swag!)

1. Pray for us! No matter where you live, thirty seconds of your time will do the trick. Pray that all of us would be in good health, that we'd be safe, that we'd stay strong and motivated and run with endurance, no matter how tired we get. We've already had one group casualty this week, and my heart still hurts over it. Pray that nothing else will happen to deter anyone from finishing the course.

2. Follow me on Facebook. This might be crazy, but I'm planning to carry my phone. I want to track my friends (see below), but I also want to try to snap and upload few photos along the way if I can do it without tripping over any cracks in the road. The race starts at 7:00 a.m. CST, although my friends and I won't get over the start line for a little while. Picture thousands of runners, many of them faster than us, squeezing through a bottleneck.

3. Follow us online. You can do so from the race website or by downloading the free iPhone or Android app. Just program me and/or anyone else from my group that you know into your favorites ahead of time. I did it, so that means it's easy. :-)

4. Send a text message, and don't be offended if I don't respond. Last year my brother did this -- another proof of his chronic awesomeness -- and it came at just the right moment. Trust me, when the steepest hill of the course presents itself at Mile 11, you need all the encouragement you can get!

5. Come out and cheer! Seriously, y'all, I know it's totally inconvenient to make your way through all the street closures and whatnot, and I have low expectations for this option, but if you have any way to do it (see race map here and spectator recommendations here), we will nominate you for Time Magazine's 2012 Person of the Year. Either that, or have warm, fuzzy feelings toward you for the remainder of your life. Whichever you prefer.

Cheering spectators make a HUGE difference (often reminds me of the "great cloud of witnesses" in Hebrews 12 ... which makes me think maybe my dad will be watching me). Knowing that if you make it around the next corner, a familiar face will light up and shout your name? Best pick-me-up ever.

For what it's worth, Vanessa and I will probably be in or near the 11:30 mile pace group, meaning that it takes us an average of 11:00 (running 6 minutes, walking 1 minute) to do 1 mile. If that makes you feel -- as it did my neighbor the other day -- like you might be able to do this yourself some day, then I have done my job.

Thanks for the support, dear friends and readers. I hope I can return the favor some day!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Ah, History

At the breakfast table, we watch a BrainPop video on the Civil Rights movement that alludes to the Brown vs. Board of Education case. I ask who can explain Brown vs. Board, since we learned about it recently. Eliza authoritatively chirps right up.

"Well, the browns had to ride a bus to a school that was far away, while the whites got to go to a school nearby."

Ahem.

Oh, and a couple weeks ago I got this question -- also at the breakfast table, also from She Who Likes To Know the Answers:

"Wait. Mom [serious hazel eyes; cogs of mental wheels clearly spinning despite the threads of doubt working their way in], were you alive during Paul Revere's famous ride?"

That girl o'mine. There are times when I could just eat her up with a spoon.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Happy Valentine's Day!


I don't care whether you're married, engaged, seeing someone, or apparently without visible prospects for any of the above. It's a day to celebrate love, so from our household to yours ... 

You are loved. 
Absolutely and unconditionally. 
Period. 
End of story. 


Monday, February 13, 2012

Recommended Reading

Do you ever read a book that feels like it's piercing its laser beam into your heart and history? Even though you're on vacation with your family and part of you just wants to be left alone in blissless ignorance?

 (Sorry, horrid photo.)

I thought this was a book on parenting. I turned out to be wrong. This is a book that applies to every human relationship, but especially those with the people closest to us -- i.e. the people we try to fix. I recommend this book to anyone who ...

... has ever felt disappointed, at moments, in her (or his!) marriage and thinks that if her spouse would just change x behavior/habit/personality, all would be well.

... has ever felt disappointed, at moments, in her marriage and suspects that if she would try harder to be a good spouse, meeting all her mate's innermost needs, all would be well.

... has a tendency to try and control, fix, coerce, apologize for, or make everything all right for, other people.

... ever feels embarrassed by her children's behavior or quirks and wonders where she (the parent) went wrong.

... seeks the love and approval of others to fill that empty space inside.

... wonders whether honoring her husband means subsuming her own thoughts, feelings, preferences.

... thinks that maybe it's not quite right to throw the "Children, obey your parents in the Lord" verse at her own children.

Etc. Now, I can neither confirm nor deny that I've done all of those things. All I'm saying is, I've got plenty to think and pray about.

(Oh, and disclaimer: This book will probably appeal more to a Christian audience. Just saying. Oh, and if you want to buy it, because perhaps your library doesn't have it, you could go here: Families Where Grace Is in Place. Also just saying.)

If you read it, or already have, let me know what you think!

Other Recommended Reading: 


Because Your Story Matters More Than  Your Stats -- Gypsy Mama
Why I'm No Homeschool Superstar -- Amongst Lovely Things

Thursday, February 9, 2012

How to Truly Enjoy a Family Cruise


This might not be of general interest, but I thought I'd just wrap up a few observations from our trip last week before moving on to the kind of posts that document the startling glamour of our daily life at home.

Brief Recap: We spent a week aboard Royal Caribbean's Mariner of the Seas as a family group that included myself, my husband, our three children (ages 11, 8 and 6) and my 60-year-old, recently widowed mother. We departed from Galveston and spent the week cruising the Western Caribbean -- first-time cruisers, all six of us.


It's true what they say: Cruising is a pretty handy way to travel en famille, especially with multiple generations involved. Are all the bells and whistles necessary ingredients for a great vacation? Of course not. But for a special trip once in a while that can satisfy a range of activity levels and desires for together time, it definitely works.

(And here I have to give a grateful hat tip to one of my oldest friends, Erica Silverstein, who actually earns a living as a senior editor for Cruise Critic. We met as shy and overwhelmed freshmen on our first day of high school, have reunited via Facebook, and once again she held my hand, virtually this time, sharing invaluable advice as I planned and packed for this trip. Also, thanks to my friend Stefani and her mom, both patient recipients of my neurotic questions.)

It occurred to me during the trip that the lessons I was learning during a week on this gigantic boat were the perfect souvenirs to carry home and apply. Such as ...

1. Pack light ... but take a sweater. This was a source of angst in the week or so leading up to the trip, since I'd never cruised before, and we needed to prepare for everything from formal nights to hiking through a Belizean rainforest (in the rain, it turned out). But we ended up with one carry-on-sized rolling suitcase per person and one carry-on bag (like a backpack or tote bag). Really, why not simplify the options, taking what truly works and leaving the rest behind?

If you want to know more specifics of how I packed, email me. My only mistake ended up being the neglect of a light, rainproof jacket.

2. Make the journey your own. A couple days into the cruise, I still wasn't sure how I felt about the experience. I don't particularly like crowds, for one thing. Something about swarms of large people circling the buffet for one more dessert when I'm trying to guide a six year old to the table  without causing a cacophonous collision just sets my teeth on edge. For other reasons, too, I felt slightly out of my element. Plus, I wasn't sure whether it was somehow obligatory to attend nighttime performances, when what my body was really telling me to do was go to bed early and SLEEP.

Then I realized: our trip is OUR trip. Nothing is obligatory. Missing activities is fine. We needed to only do what felt enjoyable to us. I learned to get up early and watch the sunrise up on the deck while reading my Bible and staring prayerfully off into space in relative solitude. Being simple folk, attending a terrific ice show in which my girls got to ride in a clown car and watching our dining room waiters do origami provided all the evening thrills we needed. We also located  the spot on the ship most conducive to quiet daytime reading. It worked for us. Very much so, in fact.




3. Happiness is a side effect. During my morning time, I'd read from the Psalms. absorbing reminders that "there is none upon the earth that I desire besides Thee." (Psalm 73:25) That re-centering spilled over into each day, until I found that I was most happy when I didn't expect the vacation to make me happy. Does that make sense? I wasn't plugging in to the EXPERIENCE as my source of satisfaction. Instead, I plugged into HIM. Jesus. The Fountain of living waters. Then, the experience became a nice bonus. Whether people swarmed the buffet or whether my children made a happy beeline for the Kids' Club, whether the front desk staff gave me inaccurate information or whether our family frolicked together in golden sunbeams, I could simply say:

"Thank You ... for this moment. Right now." 




Which is the best memory to bring home, unpack, and start savoring immediately. 

Never mind the T-shirt. 


Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Roatan, Honduras

Hey friends!

I've had blog posts galore (or one Big Momma Blog Post) cooking in the brain for days now, but somehow there's no such thing as easing back into real life. Who knew that cooking, cleaning, home-educating, laying my own napkin in my lap, and not being rocked to sleep in a boat at night could be so exhausting? :-)

For now, I'll just share a few photos with you from our stop in Roatan, Honduras -- a small island with a startling juxtaposition of haves and very-much-have-nots. We drank in some breathtakingly beautiful scenes (and clowned around with monkeys), but we also witnessed some pretty depressing squalor. I'll be honest with you -- it's hard to pass by the dilapidated shacks, the trash-strewn "yards," the wandering dogs, chickens, and children and not feel pretty uncomfortable. And yet my heart whispered that we all need a healthy dose of such discomfort now and then, especially in the middle of a rather pampering vacation. And I don't just mean that it's good for my children, either.

Anyway.


 (Spying on a school of fish.)









We hired a local guide through Victor Bodden Tours (Victor also runs the super fun Monkey Business pictured above), and he drove us all over the island, making various stops. I wanted to share with you something we did that was a bit off the beaten path. Did you know that there's a site called Family Travel Network that can help you hook up with schools and orphanages in need?

At our request, our guide took us to a local grocery store, where we filled a cart with staples. Later in the day, we visited an orphanage that houses eleven Spanish-speaking children. I dusted off my Spanish, and we all found that hugs, smiles handshakes and broken Spanglish do just fine when cultures gently collide. It's hard to describe the surge of joy I felt as we left after a brief visit, with the children waving goodbye to their new "friends." Later, they mentioned that stop as one of their favorite memories of the whole trip.

I almost left with a fourth child. :-)


A full day, in more ways than one. 

More to follow ...

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Cozumel

Just a teaser, trying out this blogging-from-iPhone thing. Does it work?