Thursday, June 30, 2011

Bigger Picture Moment: When Time Runs Out

The way it goes is so normal for all of us that it's a hard cycle to break away from.  We think I really should give him a call or I'll write her a long letter -- she'll enjoy that or Next time I order pictures, I'll send some to them specifically

And then, it also goes this way: you can't do any of those things when time runs out. 

So it was this week for me -- time ran out.  With my Step-Grandma. 

It's true -- I didn't know her very well and I can't say that we had a particularly close relationship.  But my memories of her always include feeling well-loved and being smiled-upon.  Whatever family tension there may have been (as I'm sure there was) wasn't on my childhood radar, and I only knew that she was gentle and present.

She was good at sending birthday cards with a sweet note inside -- perhaps a picture of my grandpa and 5-year-old me smiling together.  Last time she sent a note, I made a resolution: I'll send new pictures of the girls (she's never met Lauren, has she?) and write a long, pen-pal type letter.  She'll enjoy that, I think.

But I got busy.  Life-busy.  Keeping up with kids busy and resting quietly in the downtime busy.  I won't say there weren't moments that I couldn't have sat down and penned a few lines just to make her smile, because I did have time.  The trouble was that I assumed the time wouldn't matter. 

The trouble was, she'd been sick for awhile without making much of her symptoms.  The trouble was, time flew away from us. 

The trouble was, I never got around to making a point of connecting, and now I can't.

Like I said -- we weren't close, and I'm neither shattered with desolation at her passing nor wracked with guilt that I missed sending that letter.  I'm actually glad for her sake that she can finally rest peacefully and without pain.  But I will miss knowing that she's thinking of me on my birthday, and I will miss knowing that she could have been smiling at a silly letter from her step-granddaughter. 

And in a selfish way, I feel grateful to her for reminding me (because I forget so quickly): we don't have endless time in which to show our love.  It's now or never. 

It's now. 

Do me a favor?  That person you've been meaning to connect with -- do it today.  It'll be worth it.

We're seeing the Bigger Picture through simple moments -- moments that force us to stop and take notice of the ways our worlds are important, meaningful, and beautiful. Please join us at Melissa's place today! Grab the button, link up and then go forth to encourage the two people before you as they walk this journey of intentional living.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Simple Summer Schemes: Smoothie Pops

For me, summer means searching for and acquiring frozen things with which to keep myself cool.  Any frozen thing will do, really, but with kids, the more fun that frozen thing happens to be, the better.  Popsicles are good, but homemade popsicles?  FUN!  Especially when the kids in question are allowed to be involved with the whole process.

Usually, there's not much 'process' involved with popsicles, but these smoothie pops take a few more steps which help keep the children busy and interested.  Here's the blow-by-blow:

1.  Whip up a quick smoothie.  My favorite yogurt-based version is here, but this summer, I've been loving an even simpler variety.  The recipe is super easy:

2.  Have the kids toss one ripe banana into a blender with one cup (or more, to taste) of frozen fruit.  We love strawberries, blueberries, and peaches especially; the bags in the freezer section of the grocery store are both cheap and packed with picked-fresh goodness.  Add a splash of milk or juice (more or less depending on how pourable you need the mixture to be) and blend the daylights out of it all, until it's smooth and delicious.  (Not that I know, but be sure to keep the lid handy in case the little ones get button-happy before you're prepared.  Ahem.)

3.  Find a fun pouring device for the smoothies.  I used these little cake-decorator contraptions, so the girls could fill the popsicle molds themselves, but a number of things would be just as fun.  Measuring cups, funnels, spoons, whatever.

4.  Let 'em loose with the smoothies and molds!  I mean, let 'em loose in a closely supervised way, depending on the age of your pourers.  Smoothies have a tendency to seep across a table with alarming speed.

5.  If you don't have molds, paper cups with popsicle sticks propped in them would work beautifully. 

6.  The thicker you make the smoothie -- by adding milk or yogurt in particular -- the creamier your popsicle will be.  Use juice or just fruit alone to make it more crystalline and crunchy.

7.  Don't be afraid to let the littlest helpers have fun, too.  If they spill, they're very likely to lick up the drips before you can even reach the towels.

8.  Place the popsicles in the freezer for several hours.  (Lessons in patience, anyone?)  I think ours were in for about 7 hours, and they were perfect!  Which is good, because then came the truly fun part...

9.  The consuming of popsicles on a hot afternoon.  Homemade popsicles that kept us busy and entertained as well as cool and refreshed.

10.  Now it's your turn -- get to blending and pouring!  And let me know how this simple summer activity worked for you!

What are some of your favorite popsicle recipes?  Have you ever let the kids come up with their own combinations?  What would you add to make these either SUPER decadent or MONDO fun?

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Lucy and Lenae's Awesome Reading Adventure (Where Sarah Tags Along Jauntily)

I have a confession to make: I've never read The Chronicles of Narnia.  And since seeing the well-done movies, I really don't have a pressing desire to do so.  (Please don't hate me, Lenae...)  So when Lucy and Lenae announced that they were going to begin the grand adventure of reading C.S. Lewis' Space Trilogy together, I found myself wanting to participate purely for redeeming reasons.  Also for party-crashing reasons.  Also for entertainment reasons.

In short: I have my reasons. 

And today begins the first installment of their read-along fun!  (Read more about the plan hereAlso here.)

The official 'assignment' is to blog about the first three chapters, and I'll do that -- but not because I want to.  What I want to do is blog about chapter 7 or 8 or 9 or get my drift?  Yes, I'm a reader-aheader.  In my defense, I didn't know ahead of time how far I was supposed to read.  Also, I love to read.  Also, I can't help it if I read fast.

In short: I'll blog about the first three chapters of Out of the Silent Planet now.


You know that feeling you get when you realize that you're surrounded by incredibly smart people and they think you understand what they're saying, but you're really lagging so far behind that you're only beginning to grasp the things they said a few conversations ago, yet they plow forward intelligently, hopefully ignorant of your stupor?

That's kind of how I felt for the first few pages of Out of the Silent Planet.  Don't be discouraged -- there's nothing difficult about this book.  It's just that it's written so fully and brilliantly (and old-fashionedly) that my mind had to shed some lazy pounds before it could keep up.  When I begin an old Austen or Bronte-type novel, I have to undergo the same transformation; there's a quick curve to summit before my modern mind can proceed.  It only took a few pages though, and then --

Wow.  What I love the most about picking up a new book is being surprised at its beauty.  Like, picking up a science fiction book, I wasn't fully prepared to be awed by the way the words fit together, you know what I mean?  But C.S. Lewis -- I guess he's famous for a reason.  Listen to this:

If he had chosen to look back, which he did not, he could have seen the spire of Much Nadderby, and, seeing it, might have uttered a malediction on the inhospitable little hotel which, though obviously empty, had refused him a bed.
This particular quote -- as well as the whole book so far, really -- is not all flowery or full of emotional wording, but I immediately get a sense of frustration and politely disguised anger.  It (and the paragraph in which it's couched) tells me about the main character (Ransom) and how he's feeling on this dark night, without saying: Ransom was highly irritated after being turned away from the single hotel in the area.  But none of that is what draws me to Lewis's sentence: I just think such a complex series of adjoining thoughts is fun to read.  (Look at all those completely legal commas!)

And the cool part is, from what I've seen, the book is full of such gems.  Here's another favorite:
Whatever the process of thought may have been, he found that the mental picture of himself calling at The Rise had assumed all the solidity of a thing determined upon. 
All the solidity of a thing determined upon.  That there's a mighty good phrase, ain't so?  Plus it makes me think of Ransom as a slightly impulsive fellow, and I know that will make for a good character trait, especially when it's combined with his other qualities -- intelligent, unassuming, rumpled, etc. 

I'll let Lucy and Lenae regale you with more in-depth plot outlines thus far, but here's what I know, in a pinch:

Ransom, a mere pedestrian wanderer, was abducted by some sketchy dudes (one named Devine which makes me think of de-vein, as in, peeling that nasty string from the back of a shrimp) of whom we know only a little bit, and that little bit isn't good.  These sneaky characters drugged him and conked him over the head before depositing him into a space ship of all things, and are headed to....we don't yet know where.  But at the close of Chapter 3, poor, naked Ransom (well, it's HOT in the space ship, you see?) is exclaiming about the size of the moon as seen through the ship's window. 

Only it's not the moon.  It's the earth.  Something which, at the point of this book's conception and publishing, has never before been seen from an extra-terrestrial perspective.  Of course Ransom wouldn't know the earth when he saw it.

Which makes me wonder:

What completely unknown things will Ransom (and therefore, the reader) witness when he reaches his unwitting destination?

Stay tuned....

(And head to Lucy's to link up your own thoughts if you want to read along!)

Monday, June 27, 2011

Lauren the Clean-up Heroine

"Mama, I'm going to clean up the house before daddy comes home!"

She's found the floor-duster, and is smashing it into corners of the kitchen with destructive gusto; any cobweb (of which I am certain there are multitudes) won't escape the crush of her purpose. I agree wholeheartedly with her venture, and murmur my approval at appropriate intervals.

Soon, she's dragging a high kitchen chair across the floor to the back door. She climbs up, wavering at her sudden height, but undeterred. There are cobwebs (imaginary to her, but completely real to me) that need smashing above the doorframe. When that task has been completed, she's on to the window, scrubbing the duster across the panes with glee.

And narrating as she goes.

"You know why I MUST clean up this mess, because there was a TOR-A-NADO that broked everything. So, I'll fix it for you, okay? I need -- I need some glue to wipe all over it and then some heart stickers. That will work, okay? But...I still...I need to have some mustaches. OH! Pink mustaches and...I have some white mustaches if you like better...?"

I'm staring at her with joy and confusion and happiness. Glue and heart stickers, indeed. But I don't know about the mustaches.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Weekly Column: Digging Deeper than Our Prejudices

Early summer birdsong chirped through the open kitchen window as I plowed through a quick marathon of dish washing.  The kids were playing on the front porch with a new box of sidewalk chalk, and happy noises mingled with the occasional spat of authority or indignation as they colored together. 
As most peaceful childhood scenes will do, after awhile, this one disintegrated with a little one’s tears.  She came screaming inside, wailing with fury over something, but unable to stop crying long enough to explain the details to me.  I looked her over and found a bit of helpful evidence, though: on her arm, there was a sister-sized handprint clearly outlined in blue and green chalk.
Usually, the cause of argument or physical harm isn’t quite so clear.  Both girls are crying or pointing fingers, and each one has a different reason for blaming the other.  Even in the case of the chalked-on handprint, I knew there was more to the story.  The likelihood of my older daughter hitting her little sister for mere entertainment isn’t very good – she must have felt justified in her actions.  Detective mom needed to be on duty to sort through the evidence.
When siblings fight, it can be so easy to walk into the room, see one crying, and automatically punish the other one.  The squeaky wheel always deserves the oil, right?
Not always.  We parents must be honest about the ways we’ve labeled our children before we blaze onto the scene, handing out discipline without first getting all the details.  It could be the usually aggressive little brother beating up on the passive big brother.  If that’s what we expect to see, the big brother can end up blaming everything on his more aggressive sibling, and know that his parents won’t suspect him for a minute. 
In order to make accurate assessments both about what transpired a few minutes ago, and how to proceed with discipline, the whole truth needs to come out.  That means that we have to listen to all sides.  If we’ve kept the channels of communication open so the kids feel comfortable telling us the truth, that’s what we’ll hear. 
And what I heard that morning was this: little sister joyfully refused to budge out of her big sister’s path of chalk.  The irritation of her request being unheeded was too much for a 5-year-old to handle without erupting into anger, and she hit her sister on the arm. 
There was no fairness in only disciplining the hitter; the disrespectful sister had to be addressed as well. 
For the hitting, there was appropriate discussion: it’s never, ever okay to hit somebody, even if they’re making you mad.  There are plenty of ways to deal with that anger, but hitting will only get you in trouble and cause pain for all involved.  Then, there were apologies and consequences.
For the not-budging after being asked repeatedly, there was also discussion: when somebody asks you to stop doing something irritating, you have to respect those wishes.  How would YOU feel if your sister kept getting in your way or ruining your work?  Then, as with the hitting, there were apologies and consequences. 
It all works out fairly, but only if we get to the bottom of the fight.  Thankfully, as our kids grow, they gain the ability to explain what happened in argumentative situations.  But it’s up to us to be prepared to hear them without prejudice.

[Online version here.]

Saturday, June 25, 2011

This Little Piggy

Ninety degrees in the shade, crispy-fried back yard grass, skin that pinkens from a moment of midday sun -- yes, summer has arrived at Heavenly House.  But all is not lost.  A blessed covered porch still shields us from the long, scorching days.

Random neighbors and friends feel obliged to take advantage of its cooling canopy above and smooth cement below.  We let them stay as long as they behave themselves, and in this heat, they mostly do.  But only because it's too hot to be bothered with moving.

More importantly, we keep them around because they are somewhat entertaining during these still, thick days.  For example, where else but in the porch's neglected flower beds, can one find a wallowing piglet? 

He certainly has the life, doesn't he? 

Little girls to fill his pit with cooling mud whenever they see a need.  (And they see the need every few minutes.)  Shaded, plenteous dampness; all the basic, luxurious requirements for a day of wallowing.

It's really too bad that he decided to explore. 

Neighborhood cats have no scruples, you know, when it comes to stealing someone else's bacon, mud-covered or otherwise.

This little piggy really should have stayed home.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Dandy Baby!

Do you know the fabulous Dawn at Spontaneous Clapping?  You should; she's...fabulous.  But that's not the point right now.  The point right now is that she's begun a new blog called Dandy Baby, and it's all dedicated to homemade, fresh, healthy BABY FOOD.  And I'm not joking when I say that I almost crawled into the screen to hug her in (inappropriate) thanks. 

(While licking her cyber-spoons.)  (What an odd statement...)

Honestly, I cringe when I think of feeding our new baby boy any store-bought baby food in the future.  Because I cringed when I fed it to Mia and Lauren.  Because it looked and smelled so...not good.  I can't say that it tasted bad, because I was always too squeamish to actually try it.  How terrible is that?  To feed my children something I'd rather not eat? 

Anyway, with both girls, we rushed past the pureed phase of life and dove straight into soft-cooked chunks of whatever Justin and I were eating.  It worked out well in that they became accustomed to normal foods, and learned finger foods with reckless abandon.  But I still think pureed food is wonderful for introducing new flavors as well as being super convenient when prepared ahead of time. 

Therefore, I promise to make fresh purees (at least some of the time) for Heavenly Baby Boy, starting with Dandy Baby's simple, lovely recipes.  How can I not, when they look so gorgeous?  So EDIBLE?  I know edible doesn't sound like high praise, but compared to what I usually think when I look at a jar or tub of store-bought baby's major.

I hope when little Peanut is old enough for non-purees, Dawn will regale us with soft, mashable, (hair accessorizing) finger foods, too.  Then, maybe, kid-friendly, healthy options for toddlers and bigger kids.  Because I'm in love with her baby food blog.  She takes beautiful photos and makes everything look perfectly, possibly simple while offering tons of inspiration for what to make next. 

You should definitely check it out.  And make some puree.  Even if it's just for yourself.

Because how delicious does Minted Summer Peach sound?  And Blueberry Pear Oatmeal?

WILDLY delicious, that's how.

Now.  Thank you for your kind attention to my radical excitement. You may return to your non-crazy-super-fan-type reading. 

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Happy Birthday, Bigger Picture Blogs!

A year can do so much, can't it? 

It can transform a group of hopeful writers and friends into a flourishing community of voices.  It can grow people into the artists or creators that they've dreamed of becoming.  It can fill a life with joy in the midst of hardship or boredom or stress or worry. 

But the best thing about a year, is that it renews itself.  It will roll over into another year of hope and expression and experience. 

So here we are, celebrating the first birthday of Bigger Picture Blogs, and I, for one, feel so uplifted by belonging to this community of friends.  And so excited that the year is rolling over into another unknown space of time. 

If the past year is any reflection (and we know it is), then what's to come will be beautiful.  Thank you, my friends, for joining in with us as we celebrate!  After all, it's you we're celebrating -- the chance to know and love you, and the peace you bring into our lives. 

While I sing to you (you'll have to imagine...and do so with lots of missed notes and giggles), please join me in sharing your favorites -- link them up at Undercover Mother (your own moments or those written by another; as many as you wish!) and you'll be entered to win a gift basket filled with a few of our favorite things.  Check out the other links there to read some the year's best moments -- maybe one of the favorites will be yours?!

(Speaking of favorite things, have you entered the giveaway at Hyacynth's place for a chance to win a necklace made by Corinne of A Soft Landing?  Go now!  You still have until 7PM tonight!)

P.S. One of my personal favorite Bigger Picture Moments -- one that I frequently return to -- is Like A River, but I won't link it at the Birthday Party because someone already has.  (Thank you!)  Nevertheless, I want to share it here -- it's a good one!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Simple Summer Schemes: Bubble Painting

Ready for a fun, simple activity?  Me too!

And really, this doesn't have to be confined to summertime, but something about bubbles makes me think of warm, sunny days.  Here we go!

You'll need:
Bubble solution
food coloring
bubble wands
old sheets


1.  Pour a small amount of bubble solution into several bowls.  We used less than 1/4 cup, and it was just right to be deep enough for dipping. 

2.  Add 4 drops of food coloring to each bowl of bubble solution, and stir.  I thought 4 drops was overkill, but when we used less (like, 2 drops), it didn't show up brightly enough when the fun began.

3.  Cover your work area with an old sheet because colored bubbles are about to be scattered far and wide.  Unless you're a true summer-embracer and wish to head outdoors, which would be perfect, you'll want to protect the table or floor you're working on.  It was too windy for us this day, so...

4.  We stayed indoors to make our art.  Have your kids blow bubbles directly at a sheet of paper -- thicker is better because the solution gets rather drippy when little ones are involved. 

5.  But the drips add character to the splotches of circular, popped bubble imprints left behind.

6.  We had tons of fun with this super simple activity!  The girls laughed and squealed each time a bubble popped on their paper, and pretended they were famous artists with crazy, mixed-up paintbrushes.

7.  And the bubbles did fly -- part of the fun was watching the colored orbs float around the table and trying to aim them directly at the paper, which is easier done with gentle puffs of air.  (Something my three year old isn't really capable of, by the way...)

8.  Don't forget to wear splatter-proof clothing.  As for the splattered faces, there's just no covering up that kind of splashed-on color.  Thankfully, it washed off easily.

9.  But not before I seriously considered leaving the primary-colored freckles right where they lay.  Such cuteness that day -- both in speckled, happy, creative kids, and in their bubbled masterpieces.

What do you think?  Have you done bubble painting before?  Any tips?  And what do YOU have planned to keep the little ones busy this summer?

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Simple Summer Schemes

This summer, my girls are enrolled in an 8-hour/week summer preschool program. I love the fun of summer preschool because it's usually all about water play and silliness, rather than full days of super-structured learning. I love that they still get to play with their friends into early July. And (be honest), I also love the few hours of writing (or reading, or cleaning, or shopping) time I'm allowed two mornings a week.

But still, that leaves us with lots of free time to wander aimlessly around the house and (now scorched and crunchy) backyard. Though it's hard for me to admit, I have trouble with that free time. I often forget that too much boredom (while sometimes good and constructive) can lead to irritation.

They fight. They melt-down. They whine. I whine.

So, I need plans. Nothing major, but something to do in our hours and hours filled with summer freedom. Something simple. Something to look forward to. Something to spur creativity and imagination, perhaps.

A few weeks ago, the girls and I sat down and made a list of our summer hopes. It's a super-simple, low-key list including things like Throw water balloons and Make our own rainbow and Dance in our bathing suits. Its purpose is just to spur us towards fun things on a daily basis, but I also threw in a handful of personal hopes along the something-to-look-forward-to lines: Visit family in Kansas; Stay in a hotel; Go to the lake.

However, our summer list doesn't include many specific project-type things. And since I'd like to have a couple of those activities planned each week, I need to step up my mom-game.

Therefore, I do hereby clang the gong to announce Simple Summer Schemes.

I have a few ideas up my cyber-sleeves, and hope they go over well so that I have actual ideas to share! So if you're like me and need something to keep your summer days filled with at least a bit of planned fun? Stick around this summer.  I'll share what I've got.

Up tomorrow is Bubble Painting. Be here or be....

Bored :)

Monday, June 20, 2011

Weekly Column: Swimming Lessons in Confidence

After an hour of clingy, energetic play in the swimming pool, my five-year-old was ready for more independence. 
She’d been jumping into her daddy’s arms, keeping her head above water, and practicing her kicks while he supported her.  Last summer, she’d learned a few basic building blocks at swim lessons that helped her feel better about going under water.  This summer, she was slowly testing those leftover skills, working on re-building her confidence, one burst of bubbles at a time. 
When all seemed to be going perfectly, she pushed away, kicking and reaching towards the edge, and promptly sucked up her first nose-full of pool water as her face dipped under the surface. 
She sputtered away that hard-won confidence with hacking coughs which soon melted into angry tears.
Never, ever, was she going to try swimming again, she swore.  It hurt too badly when she failed. 
We could have chastised her for giving up, or we could have forced her back into the water.   We could have told her to stop crying and deal with it.  We could have shattered her fledgling excitement even more than that nose-full of water had done.  But when kids are learning a new skill or trying a new activity, they need support, not force.  They need calm guidance, not mandatory independence.  
The first steps are to help our children calm down while addressing their fears.  In this case, after helping her blow her nose to alleviate the sting, we congratulated her success.  After all, she did make it to the pool’s edge despite the nose-full of water.  It helped to tell her stories of when we’d gotten water in our own noses as children.  We sympathized, because we know how much it hurts.  With her love of stories, she wanted to know what happened next, which was that we kept trying, because with enough practice, it became easier to keep the water out. 
Next, we had to encourage her without pressing the issue.  Her daddy promised to be even more vigilant in keeping her head above water as they played and practiced.  Since we’ve traveled this route before with other activities and fears, she knew he was being truthful.  She knew he’d never let her go under water unless she was ready, so they started again slowly.  He asked if she’d like to try swimming by herself, but respected her negative answer.  As they played, we reminded her how to blow bubbles out of her nose while she’s swimming; when bubbles are blowing out, no water can come in. 
Finally, we had to be ready to back off for the day.  Our daughter is more likely to try something difficult when she doesn’t feel pressured or judged, and it was helpful to just sit back and see what she wanted to do, without a lot of fanfare.  We had to be tuned into her specific needs and level of readiness for such a big, new skill.  Letting her go at her own pace – which sometimes means two steps forward, three steps back – promises that the lessons she’s learning in the pool are her own.  
For our little ones, having a trustworthy supporter in their corner as they learn a new skill, whether it’s swimming or bike-riding or reading, will help them build healthy confidence and independence.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Lauren and The Green Popsicle

The first bite is a doozy....

The middle bites are slushy and perfect....

But the juice leftover at the end is the coveted trophy of popsicle excellence.

So much so that one might even wish to sing a sonnet to that juice.

Or at least reward its chilly, green countenance with a healthy smooch of appreciation.

That is one lucky popsicle: it's not everyone who gets to reap the sweetness of a kiss from Lauren Jade.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Some Quickety-Quick Takes for June

1.  In what was perhaps a fit of pregnancy-enhanced tastebuds, I made delightfully fresh chicken salad sandwiches one night this week.  And I added loads and loads of fresh dill.  Oh, the crisp, light aroma.  Oh, the bright, airy flavor.  Oh, the seconds and thirds I consumed.

Oh, the husband who gagged on too much dill. 

The girls were fine: Lauren loved the chopped grapes and Mia loved the white-bread buns.  They tolerated the dill, and didn't complain too much.  But the husband, the pickle-hating husband, had one taste of dill and lost his appetite.  But what do you think?  Does dill remind you only of pickles?  Because I think I'd love it in lots of things, though I can't really place -- right now -- what those things might be.  Any ideas? 

Of course, I won't feed your suggestions to the husband. 

2. While driving in the car, we see a shirtless man walking near the river.  Botched discussion ensues.

Lauren: Heeeyyyy!!  That man was nakied!!
Mia: *after a momentary silence*  Mom?  Why can boys wear no shirts, but not girls?
Me:  Because boys don't have anything that needs to be covered up on their chests.  Girls wear shirts to keep our private parts covered.
Mia:  But...daddy has nipples, too, right?  Why aren't they private?
Me:  *Crap*  Um...well...yes, boys have nipples, too.  But it's different.
Mia:  Why? 
Me:  *Why me, God; Why?*  Well, girls' chests are curvier and...more private...and they' know...they're just...not for anybody else to see.  *Derrrr...also known as the definition of private...*
Mia:  Just for babies to get milk?
Me:  Yes!  Yes!  That's right!  Babies!  Hey you know what?  The baby just kicked!  Do you think he's ready to go swimming at Nana's house?!?  I am!  And then we can have POPSICLES!!  Who wants popsicles?!?

3.  Why am I never prepared for discussions like that one? 

4.  Oh, hey -- Kam at Nap Wars?  I've been trying to comment on your blog for a few weeks, and it's doing that awful thing Blogger has going on right now where it doesn't recognize my Google ID and since you don't allow anonymous comments (I think), and I can't find a way to email you...what I'm saying is, I have comments to leave!  I want to tell you that I was so BUMMED when your baby didn't play along at the gender-revealing ultrasound!  I want to tell you that you MUST go to one of those stand-alone ultrasound places, because I'm DYING to know your baby's gender!

(And I hope you don't mind a quick-take being devoted to you and the contents of your uterus!)

5.  Sisterly love and respect is rampant in our household this summer.  See?

6.  But in the end, I really do think they're best friends.

7.  Which works out perfectly, because they have the same goofy, camera-foiling smiles.  That's a best friend requirement -- didn't you know?

Have a beautiful weekend, friends!  More Quick Takes are at Conversion Diary.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Bigger Picture Moment: With Unshuttered Eyes

Strangely, it's like this: I walk through the living room without noticing the displaced stack of books on the floor, because they've been there for days.  They begin to look appropriate.  The towels from last Friday's swimming session are still wadded by the back door, and the lone flip-flop in a halved pair is still lingering under the kitchen table.  There are two bags of donations waiting to be donated, two boxes of storage items waiting to be stored, and it's all pushed to one side of the hallway.  The baby bassinet is filled with our old comforter...on top of unfolded laundry.

And I begin to not see its misplacement.  I clean around these things; it's odd.  The longer they sit, the less I notice their wrongness. 

That's what it's like.  Living here in a tornado-ravaged city, three weeks after the disaster. 

The flattened horizon has begun to look appropriate.  It is what I expect to see.  That mangled building?  I know it.  That stripped tree?  It's normal.  Those rows of battered, abandoned vehicles?  They are part of the landscape. 

We drive around it.  We see giant debris-removal trucks on every road, and we wait for them to move; they are anticipated.  We nod our heads at volunteers and relief workers; they might not live here, but they belong. 

Our eyes get used to what we are experiencing, even as our hearts ache.  The world evolves around us, even as our souls cling to the past.  It is protection, no longer being startled or terrified by the city's appearance.  It is grace, no longer feeling like the air has left my lungs.

It is life.  It will be beautiful again, but for now I'm comforted in knowing that my eyes, at least, won't have to remain shuttered in order to function in this town.  I can see it.  I can accept it.

Because it will be put back together again, just like I'll eventually move the boxes of storage and the wadded up towels.  The scope of one is so much larger than the other, but they both function the same way in my mind:

This, too, shall pass. 

We're seeing the Bigger Picture through simple moments -- moments that force us to stop and take notice of the ways our worlds are important, meaningful, and beautiful. Please join us at Alita's place today! Grab the button, link up and then go forth to encourage the two people before you as they walk this journey of intentional living.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

8 Years Is Only a Drop in the Bucket

Eight years ago today, I was squeezing into the laces of a pure, white gown.  I was forgetting to breathe and wanting the day to hurry hurry hurry but slowly; I wanted every second to be plucked from its timeline and examined before it could be placed back on the speeding light of wedding-day time.

Here's one series of seconds I remember with spotty clarity:

The church was empty, quiet.  Bridesmaids were hidden away somewhere, getting ready for the evening, but I was dressed.  I was sweaty.  I practiced my walk in heels that were never seen under the heaviness of the gown's skirt.  Inside the flowered sanctuary, through a rectangle window, my husband stood at the foot of the chancel's steps.

He stood as if ready for the ceremony to begin, hands clasped firmly behind his tuxedo'd back. 

I opened the door, and he saw me.  Without the halting processional music -- only silence -- I could hurry down the aisle to his side.  We were alone, except for the photographer who'd hidden himself outside the doors, protecting our first glimpse from other glimpses. 

I know brides are usually the focus of the day in terms of beauty and grace.  But oh -- my groom.  He glowed.  He glows.  He's warmth and light and comfort and strength.

In the space of seconds that we'd carved out to give each other before the excitement could begin, I remember wanting to sit down and bury my face in his neck.  I wondered why all the preparation had to keep us apart for so many hours of our day. 

What I don't remember is what we said.  I only remember how it felt to walk towards him in that dim, lofty sanctuary: floaty and pulled and desperate and hopeful and happy.  I'm certain I slipped my fingers into his and that I wasn't ready to be pulled away again before the ceremony could begin. 

I'm also certain that I still feel this way when I walk towards him, this glowing man of my dreams.  Pulled and desperate and happy.  It's compulsory, my walking towards him. 

And lucky for us, we've only had 8 short years of practice; there's still a lifetime left. 

Happy Anniversary, Justin -- I love you, I love you. 

And I love you.

Monday, June 13, 2011

The Case for Flowers -- Provenance Not Required

There's been so much brokenness around my city for the past few weeks, that it's hard to sort it all out.  And I don't even mean for the people who actually have to sort through their scattered belongings, but just for the unharmed city-dwellers who pass by the rubble every day. 

For us, it's hard to remember what Joplin used to be.  Stretches of road are completely unrecognizable, and blend in perfectly with the destruction on all sides.  I keep passing by a portion of crumbled building and realizing Oh...that WAS the street of houses that I always thought were so charming.  But just as quickly, the memory fades.

And just as tragically, in the scheme of beauty and comfort, all the trees are gone.  Hundred year old, towering oaks and sycamores in a grand, old park.  Weeping willows that lined the edge of a sweeping field.  Anything green and growing is lost, and what's left are the sharp points of bare, dead limbs.  The trees make me sadder than I though possible.  (It's been heartening to hear of others sharing my feelings; some friends are already planning a tree-replacing fund to start re-populating the stripped part of the city once it's cleaned up.)

But it makes me feel frivolous to mourn for a tree -- or even 6 square miles of trees -- when other losses are so much more pressing and tragic.  I can only guess at the thousands of unnamed, unrecorded losses.

What I can't know, for example, is the fate of the elderly lady (for I assume her identity must have been such, although I've never met or seen her in person) who covered all sides of her corner house with plumes and bunches of brightly colored plastic flowers.  Year-round, whenever I drove by that house on my side-winding shortcuts, I saw them.  Each bunch was identical: red, pink, blue, yellow, orange, purple -- all different colors arranged precisely on their green wire stems, plunged firmly and proudly into the dirt of her flower beds.  They filled the circle of bricks under her mailbox.  They crowded her window boxes. 

I had thought it was sad. 

From the outside, it seemed like it must have been a last resort; she could no longer plant seeds and bulbs, tending to weeds and sprawl with care, so she planted worry-free impostors instead.  And running through the possible scenarios in my head (it's worrisome how much time I spent considering her lawn-care choices), I admitted that it might have been less sad, and more eccentric.  In fact, I hoped so.  I hoped she was just popping a sprightly middle-finger to the world that said only delicate and fragile, honest-to-goodness flowers could fill a garden.  Realistically, spiking all of those plastic flowers into the ground probably took a lot of time and effort; I can only imagine the dollars spent on that volume of craft-store inventory.

Now, her house and all of her plastic flowers are gone.  Is she okay?  Did she survive?  If so, she certainly -- among acres of real-flower aficionados -- seems to hold the potential to make the best of a horrible reality.  She already knew what we are all just learning.

That you take beauty wherever you can get it, and you don't question it.  If it's there, soak it up.  Giggle at the confused faces of your neighbors, but bask in its prettiness without shame.  Make your world enjoyable with whatever's available to you.

Because you just never know.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Weekly Column: Teaching Patience with Patience

One of the super sneaky, extra intelligent things about small children is that they seem to have a built-in busy-ness radar. 
Need to make a phone call while your kids are quietly occupied?  Chances are very good that they will become unoccupied as soon as your conversation begins.  They’ll bound over with a pressing need, something like in-depth snack demands or frustrating sibling behaviors, and your quiet moment will be lost. 
The same scenario unfolds in the most inopportune times: the middle of a tax calculation; the critical point in dinner preparation; the single most important news segment of the broadcast. 
And the interruptions never fail to be irritating.
I imagine it’s just as irritating for our kids, though.  Can you believe the nerve of us parents?  Shushing something as significant, for example, as outlining next year’s birthday hopes?  After all, the only thing we seem to be doing is staring grumpily at a sheet of paper or talking to thin air on the other side of the telephone – nothing much.
The frustration builds on all sides until the interrupting culprit becomes an impatient mess with full meltdown potential, and the parent becomes an angry guardian of busy-ness.  Each side of the equation leads to longer interruptions. 
There are plenty of ways to try keeping them busy when we know we’ll need some alone-time.  Coloring sheets or cartoons or play-doh or any number of things may keep them temporarily amused, but in the end, those are just band-aids for a long term issue.
Children go through developmental phases which make it very difficult for them to see beyond their own, urgent needs.  Phases that make anyone else’s feelings irrelevant.  But our job as parents is to guide them through these phases by teaching them otherwise. 
In teaching children patience during legitimately busy times, I believe that one of the most important steps comes with our own actions – it’s amazing how true this is for all parenting areas.  If our children see us always placing our desires above their own, they see that as a fact of life: we get to be greedy with our desires, therefore they do, too. 
In order to help our kids learn the truth of the matter, we must show them how we respect the needs of others.   Inside the home, that means taking time to follow our children’s lead more than occasionally.    
Daily, we should pay attention to their worries and joys.  Often, we should let them help choose how to spend family playtime.  Always, we should listen with honest concern to their thoughts.  Throughout their everyday lives, we must ask their opinions and share our own in non-argumentative ways.  Once we’ve allowed our children to trust that they hold value in the home – simply by being themselves – we’ll have paved the way for a true understanding and respect of others’ time and needs. 
That way, when we parents have a real need for a few minutes of quiet for a phone call (or a splitting headache, or a serious adult conversation, or the filling out of insurance forms...), our kids will trust that we’re not just blowing them off.  They’ll understand that we’re not just putting our own needs before theirs.  They will trust us to remember their pressing need as soon as our important business has reached a stopping point. 
They will begin to understand that life takes patience, and when mom or dad tells them ‘just a minute’, they mean it. 

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Bigger Picture Moment: Blessed To Proceed

White sunlight refracted from the surface of the swimming pool as we swam with the girls.  Lauren clung to her daddy's arms fiercely -- no mere water wings or life jackets or floating rings are ever enough to make her feel comfortably safe on her own.

But Mia had kicked herself over to hover near one side of the pool, alone, suspended over the depths by a white ring of floating plastic.  The shade from an old redbud tree craned itself over her head.  She stared up into the dark branches, squinting through flecked light; something had caught her interest. 

Propped safely under shielding boughs but lifted well off of the predatory ground, was a bird's nest.  Mia's searching eyes had found it there, camoflaged and hidden as it was, but that wasn't the truly interesting part; perched atop the nest was a mother robin, and every few moments, the reflexive, swaying head of a baby bird would stretch its neck upward to meet its mother's beak. 

Here was a mother feeding her babies -- three of them, we think -- while we splashed and squealed under the tree branches.  She wasn't frightened away by our noise, and we're certain she noticed us; her black eyes moved with us as we peeked into her peaceful scene. 

We scrambled closer to catch sight of the babies. We oooh'd and ahhh'd each time a wobbly, bulbous head popped up over the nest's edge.  In the yard beyond the swimming pool, a puppy chased an old, yellow dog, and their barks provided a startling percussion that never once ruffled that mother's feathers.  She stayed.  She had a job to do.  (And, realistically, that means that she probably had a gullet full of half-digested baby food to distribute.  Fair incentive to finish strong, right?)

Nuisances like peering eyes and squealing humans didn't send her fluttering from her nest.  Frights like barking dogs and chasing puppies weren't enough to deter her mission.  Oddities like a shuttered lense perched on the face of a nosy photographer couldn't unseat her.

She had babies to raise.  These extraneous interruptions were out of her control, and though they may have worried her, she had no choice but to move forward

As it turns out, her day became less hectic.  The dogs calmed down, the prying eyes went inside for naps, and the world kept spinning around her.  The blue sky was as it always had been.  The wind-blown leaves of the redbud were just as sheltering as they once were.  The mother, I imagine, relaxed.  There was no guarantee for her or her babies about what tomorrow would bring: another puppy-rumbling ruckus; more splashing with more kids; a windy day

Their lives had to proceedTheir lives were blessed to proceed.  And who were they to turn down a blessing?

I like to think of them filling the sunrise with their voices for weeks to come; the throaty, hopeful call of a parent -- and the exuberant, up-pitched voices of her babies. 

We're seeing the Bigger Picture through simple moments -- moments that force us to stop and take notice of the ways our worlds are important, meaningful, and beautiful. Please join us here today! Grab the button, link up and then go forth and encourage the two people before you while they are walking this journey of intentional living.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

My Worry Warts Are Fading

Here are some of the things I've been worried about over the past several weeks:

The gender of the baby.

Mia's graduation of preschool.  (The years are outpacing me!)

And here's what I didn't know I needed to be worried about:

Strangely, after such a fearful event, I'm not very worried about things anymore. 

Here is life.  It is unpredictable.  Things will happen -- nerve-wracking things and relaxing things and joyful things and heartbreaking things.  But they are, for the most part, unstoppable.  All we can do is love each moment and hope for the best.  Make the best.  This doesn't mean I'll stop hashing out my thoughts and combing through them for meaning; I'll still over-analyze the world and my reactions to life, but deep down?

I know that everything will be okay. 

Monday, June 6, 2011

The Incredible, Inflatable Madness

The first of June dawned hot and humid here in Missouri, and as soon as the heat marked its prickly, sweaty presence, I remembered our inflatable pool.

The one that's been languishing, flattened and neglected, in a far corner of our back yard for the past 9 months, give or take a late Indian-summer weekend or two.

There was no telling if the thing was salvageable after being exposed to so many months of ice and snow and wind and sun and stomping toddler feet, but I gave it my best shot. 

Here's how my best shot looks: stare balefully at the mud-crusted vinyl circle for three days, wondering what manner of crawling creatures could be hiding under its blue bottom.  I was all set to leave it on the ground for another 9 months, if that meant I could avoid being freaked out by bugs or snakes or mud or something...but that would have meant a trip into town for a new pool. 

And 'town' right now has been a little bit more than I can bear.  I didn't want to drive anywhere to get a new pool, therefore I was left with one option: pool cleanup.  I commenced with much grimacing and tiptoeing, hoping to be spared the irritation of a rip or hole.

Three hours later....

The job was done.  I'd peeled a growing mushroom from the pool's wicked underbelly.  I'd sprayed a wriggling worm from between the wedged crevices.  I'd smashed a half-dozen spiders with my giant sponge.  I'd wasted gallons of hose-water in the scrubbing down of each mud-plastered inch of plastic.  I'd made myself dizzy by wasting gallons of fresh air from my own lungs to inflate the stupid, dirty thing.  I'd accidentally sat in a nest of tiny ticks or chiggers while doing the inflating, awarding myself with several itchy bumps in several inopportune places.

But it worked! 

We swam and splashed and invited our cousin, Evie, and the pool was a success! 

Nothing leaked that I could see, and if one ring lost a bit of height, I blew a few mouthfuls of air into it without much trouble.

For two whole days, my hard-won inflatable pool was nearly perfect.

Until we woke up yesterday and saw:


But now, finally, we're ready to make the trip into town for a new pool.  Our summer depends upon it.  And I promise promise promise to put the new one away properly at the end of the season.

My sanity depends upon it.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Weekly Column: A New Normal Is Still Normal

It sounds ridiculous, the notion that normalcy can survive after big chunks of our lives have been forever changed.  After all, the very structure of ‘change’ forbids inertia.  When things change, we have to move with that energy, doing what is required to stay upright.
And that’s where much of Joplin now resides.  In the middle of forced change. 
For adults, it’s hard enough: there are insurance companies to contact, helping agencies to be registered with, belongings to be salvaged, family members to be located and cared for.  The seemingly simple acts of feeding and bathing loved ones take much more effort than before. 
Our children’s worlds have been no less impacted.  Even those who still have homes are reeling from what their city and friends have been through.  Now, in the midst of such transition and upheaval, it’s important to preserve some sense of stability, however hard it is to come by. 
For different families, that takes shape in different ways.  In my own home, our days have been completely reorganized around this disaster.  Meals, bedtimes, activities, and moods are all mixed up.  We are floating along with the city’s changing pulse.  But no matter how we spend our time, we are trying to keep a few things sacred.  Things that will help our children weather these changes with a minimum of fear and worry. 
We stick to things like bedtime stories for the little ones.  Favorite, comforting words accompanied by excessive snuggling.  We plan busy-making activities with whatever supplies we have on hand: sidewalk chalking with old nubs of color, watercolor painting with cracked paints, games with heavy adult playfulness, and squishing with bare feet in the abundant spring mud-puddles. 
In the lack of timely routines, we make sure to honor the spirit of our family.  For example, while it’s tempting to let our kids watch hours of movies or cartoons as we take care of other things, if that’s not our usual habit, we try to limit television.  If we leave the kids with others while we go help those in need, we take extra time upon returning to pay attention and show love.  Anything that keeps our family operating on an even keel despite the turmoil will be helpful.  If there wasn’t much of a routine before, it may be helpful to implement a few steadying, everyday habits to keep kids from feeling at loose ends.
Even in families who’ve lost everything, where everything normal has been turned upside down, the routines of relationships remain.  The ways we relate to our kids are more important than ever.  The ways we keep them informed and let them help will provide a fabric of strength and composure for them to bounce back from their losses.  Our emotions will guide theirs, and if they feel us pulling away, unable to relate to their bouts of stress-induced grumpiness or fear, their means of responding to future distress will be impacted.
In some situations, the ways we’ll provide normalcy may not feel ordinary at all.  But a different school will still carry a somewhat known routine.  Borrowed clothes can still become favorites.  Donated toys will still distract and comfort. 
A new standard will be reached, eventually.  In the meantime, we’re all just clinging to the closest semblance of normal in order to walk away in whole, stable, upright pieces. 
Pieces that can’t be blown away in even the strongest of winds.