Thursday, February 25, 2016

Time is a Choice

"Instead of saying 'I don't have time' try saying 'it's not a priority,' and see how that feels. Often, that's a perfectly adequate explanation.  I have time to iron my sheets, I just don't want to. But other things are harder.  Try it: 'I'm not going to edit your resume, sweetie, because it's not a priority.' 'I don't go to the doctor because my health is not a priority.' If these phrases don't sit well, that's the point.  Changing our language reminds us that time is a choice.  If we don't like how we're spending an hour, we can choose differently."

                --Laura Vanderkam, in the Wall Street Journal

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Flooded Fields

We got a healthy snow this weekend and today it is melting quickly--so quickly that the fields are flooding.  I have never seen so much standing water in the pasture behind us.  This morning when I went out on the front porch, I heard pouring rain, but the sky was blue! It was the sound of the ice and snow melting off of the woods across the lane. 

(Behold the watery low points....and the southern side of the pasture is far more flooded.)

Farm life continues no matter the weather.  This morning I had to call my uncle to alert him to a dead calf in the field.  For some reason, the herd has seemed to suffer more newborn deaths in the past year than I can remember.  I don't do the farming, so I don't know the cause, but I hope my cousin and uncle are able to figure it out.  It is a sad sight to see a helpless cow standing over her lifeless calf while the buzzards start to circle. 

As for the humans, we also continue: forging through head colds, reading about ancient Greece, memorizing poetry, tackling math (who knew that I would love teaching math?!), making potato soup, staying home. My husband and I had the rare experience, for us, of watching a movie together last night.  We watched "Trash" which is set in Brazil and features three teenage boys who live in the dump and sewer and who find themselves caught in the midst of a conflict involving corrupt police and politicians.  The film was visually stunning and often painful to watch, but I did love the fabulous soundtrack. And the relationship between the three boys was golden. 

And that is what is happening in mid-February in our snowy, slushy valley.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Little Bits of Bathroom

Pretty: my bathroom.  We have been slowly renovating this bathroom for a long time, doing all the work ourselves (except cabinet-building and toilet-setting).  We're on the penultimate stretch, I think.  I love my bathroom because it is most reflective of what I like best: white, thrifted, glass, shiny. 

Everything here makes me happy: footed compote dishes of special soap, my little elephant who holds clips, the nail brush. 

  My favorite bubble bath + my bamboo toothbrush + my bathroom cleaner + wedding party favor mint julep cup that yes, needs to be polished.  I will get to it!

The glass sprayer is full of homemade cleaner, but I love the way it looks (and smells) so much that I cannot stand to put it away.  It's real glass, and filled with a water-vinegar-lemon essential oil mixture. 

Funny: wood floors in the bathroom generally elicit horror, but I love them. 

Real: remember how I said I'm on the penultimate stretch?  Behold, the shower. Caulk gun + rags + bits of leftover trim + who-knows-what-else...not pretty, happy, or funny, but very real. 

(Linking up to LMLD's Pretty, Happy, Funny, and Real tonight.)

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

A Cold Ash Wednesday

Lent arrived so quickly this year, and I was so ready for it.  My spiritual thirst is great right now, and I am ready for the narrowing of focus that Lent can bring. 

The children and I made hot cross buns--which they can eat for breakfast tomorrow!  

And after supper my sister and I drove in the swirly, magical snow to an ecumenical Ash Wednesday service at the Catholic church down the road.  

The dear pastor with whom I sang the night my grandmother died applied the ash to my forehead. I had no idea she would be administering ashes....what a blessing. 

The song that was sung in the middle of the service--a Prayer of St. Francis--was the same prayer printed on the back of my grandmother's funeral program, which I now keep posted by my kitchen sink.  

These little coincidences probably wouldn't mean much to someone else.  But I believe they are little graces to me, and I keep my eyes and heart open for them. 

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Surviving Church with Young Children

For some mothers (see me raising my hand?), Sunday is the day that makes us realize how badly we need a Savior.  Getting out of the door on time + nicely dressed is a miracle in itself, but for some of us that's just the start of the battle.

The rest of the battle is surviving worship.  

I realize that in this day and age many churches offer childcare facilities, which can be a huge boon.  Our church does not, and probably never will--and I'm happy about that!.  First of all, we're a tiny church.  Second of all, we see benefits in keeping children with parents during worship. The benefit, to my mind, is two-fold: 1) a child who has to sit through a service learns to sit through a service (the practical benefit)* and 2) the cohesiveness of family worship (the spiritual benefit). 

I am on the Other Side of this battle now.  My children are 8 and 5, so church is easy.  If we have additional children, I'll enter into the battle {clarification: the battle with my desire for perfectly-behaved children, NOT the battle with the children I do have!} wisely, knowing that ultimately it's worthwhile.  For me, church is hardest during the toddler years (1ish-3ish).  (Actually, for me, everything is hardest during the toddler years. I'm a baby person and a big kid person, but toddlers....let's just say it's a good thing they are so, so cute.) Now Finn spends the church service drawing and listening, reading prayers, and singing hymns--just like the rest of us!  Annie spends the service listening, drawing, playing, and snacking--our church hands out a small activity bag with a snack about 1/4 of the way through worship--and Annie devours those animal crackers with gusto. 

Here are the things that have helped me:
  • Divide and conquer.  You can do this with 2-3 children; after that you have to get creative, although at that point you'll have enough older children so that they can set a decent example for the crazy toddlers.  For ages my husband and I sat with the children between us.  WHAT WERE WE THINKING?!  It wasn't until our Mennonite neighbors came to worship with us one Sunday, and sat with one child on either side of them, that it dawned on me: separating the children is smart!  Not only can my husband and I sit together, which is nice, but we can keep immature humans apart--immature humans who might fight over crayons, kick each other, steal toys, etc.  {Why is it that children who generally play so nicely together turn into stark raving lunatics during church?!} Things improved a lot once I separated our children.  Denying access to bickering goes a long way.
  • Incentives.  You can call them bribes, but I am calling them incentives.  My husband's health insurance company offers an incentive for healthy behavior every year. Not a bribe.  Right?! Call them what you will, they work.  My favorite bribe incentive is to dangle the promise of a rare, alluring dessert over the child's head: the Reese's cup.  If I don't have to discipline you during the service, you get a Reese's cup on the way home. If I do, forget about it.  (This obviously only works for a child over the age of about 2.5ish. But it WORKS!)
  • For toddlers: snacks on the spot, water, crayons, and quiet toys.  A pad of paper for scribbles, a few tiny soft toys, a board book or three.  I don't expect my child to sit at attention through the entire service, but I do expect that we'll get to the point of sitting quietly through by the age of 3-ish (depending on his/her maturity level).  Our church's habit of letting each child choose a "goody bag" after the children's sermon is so helpful--the children come back to the pew with a bulletin, crayons, a snack and a few quiet toys.  This is nice for people like me who tend to forget to bring all the Necessary Gear sometimes.
  • Babies are the wild card here.  I had to take Finn out every Sunday as a baby because he has an auditory processing issue (we didn't know it at the time--but it was obvious that he was in pain when there was sudden laughter or a loud noise, and I wasn't keeping an unhappy baby in church!).  Annie was a content, easy baby; I often took her to the narthex and let her play at my feet while I listened to the sermon.  I never nursed my children in church, but others have and no one blinked an eye.  Cheerios were helpful for the older babies.  Just remember: it's only a year!
  • A little fussing or brief correction is fine, but if someone starts to lose it, I take the child out of the service so that we don't disrupt others around us. I do not punish a child when we go out--we just go get a breather, a change of scenery, etc. In fact, I probably do this too liberally because I have had countless people tell me "you didn't have to take her out! she wasn't bothering anyone!" Our church is very child-friendly and they understand that the noises of children are part of our worship service.  (In fact, we are interviewing pastoral candidates right now, and as we listen to sermons we like hearing sounds of children....because we decided that any candidate we hire must be okay with children in the service.)  On those days when I have to take a child out--and it hasn't happened in a long time for me--I try to remember that this too shall pass.  And it does.  All too quickly, in retrospect.
*NOTE: Additional benefits to this are the fact that once a child can make it through church reliably, he or she can make it through any other service.  I have taken toddlers to funerals and weddings, and it's fine!  They are quiet and they understand that this time is not interminable, that snacks are plentiful, and that they can, in fact, be quiet.  This is golden!

Monday, February 8, 2016

Radical Waiting

"To wait open-endedly is an enormously radical attitude toward life.  So is to trust that something will happen to us that is fast beyond our imaginings. So, too, is giving up control over our future and letting God define our life, trusting that God molds us according to His love and not according to our fear.  The spiritual life is a life in which we wait, actively present to the moment, trusting that new things will happen to us, new things that are far beyond our own imagination, fantasy, or prediction. That, indeed, is a very radical stance toward life in a world preoccupied with control."

                                                       -Henri Nouwen

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Victorious Thrifting

My run to the thrift store this afternoon filled my cart with: 8 books + Lilly Pulitzer for Estee Lauder tote bag (cute fabric!) + 4 (or more) yards yellow and white cotton (aka Annie's Easter dress) + 3 yards yellow cotton + a Williams-Sonoma compote dish + a footed milk glass container + a little pillow (for Annie's stuffed dog's bed, of course) + a little basket (ditto) + a pink wool suit. 

And the grand total? $12.89!!  

            I took a victory lap around the parking lot, and then I drove home. 

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Don't Fear Shakespeare: (Painlessly) Introducing the Bard to Young Children

 A couple of years ago during a discussion with a friend I mentioned our "Shakespeare study" in passing.  She immediately halted the conversation and said "WHAT? You're teaching Shakespeare?!!!!  Oh...I could never homeschool."

I realized I needed to clarify what I meant by this. 

So, here's how I'm painlessly introducing my children to the Bard of Avon.  I will add that my children are obsessed with Shakespeare!

1.  First we choose a Bruce Coville retelling (picture book!) to read and enjoy it together over the course of a few days. This helps introduce the characters and the plot.

Note: depending on the child's age, you can graduate from Coville to other Shakespeare re-writes/stories. Finn is currently engrossed in reading the "Macbeth" chapter of Leon Garfield's Shakespeare Stories.  Other good retellings are Edith Nesbit's Beautiful Stories from Shakespeare and Tales from Shakespeare by Charles and Mary Lamb.  I think the key is to watch for age-appropriateness.  For instance, when we began reading "Macbeth'  on a whim, Annie broke down into tears.  The story was simply too advanced for her to understand (she's 5).  So I am re-writing the story of Macbeth for her--I'll print it out and we'll probably illustrate it together, and we'll also read the Coville version.

2.  Then I let the children do with it what they will.  I find that they often enjoy assigning characters to their Playmobil people.  They will "play" the play. They will perform bits and pieces of the play.

3.  Find an age-appropriate performance (either live or on DVD) and/or listen to the play read (I like Jim Weiss' simple retellings of "Midsummer's" and "The Taming of the Shrew"). I highly recommend contacting the director of the play if you wish to see it live; we were saved from total nudity at a local college performance of "Midsummer's" last year because I had the foresight to email the director.  She said that during the night the characters lose their clothes in the woods.

So.  That's not right for my family!

That's it.  See?  My children play Queen Titania and Puck but they aren't scared of Shakespeare, nor is the work of the Bard seen as dry or difficult in our house.  We love him.  In fact, we love him so much that today (when we finished reading the biographical Bard of Avon), Finn and I decided that we're going to throw a Shakespeare party in's already on the calendar.

Happy reading!