Friday, April 30, 2010


1 : the mother of one's spouse

I'm not sure what the title of this post conjures for you. Maybe someone who constantly criticizes you for doing things differently? Or someone who tries to subtly undermine your authority by reminding you of how she did things when she was a mom? Or someone who makes absolutely no effort to welcome you to her family? I have friends who might describe their mothers-in-law in these (or less favorable) ways. But they aren't how I would describe my own mother-in-law. Instead, here's what I would say...

Supportive and Affirming: In more than a decade of parenting, my mother-in-law has never once criticized my mothering. Far from it. Instead, she supports our methods of parenting and affirms the choices and J and I make with our girls. When I worked outside the home, she didn't judge me for that. When I decided to stay home, she was supportive in that. My MIL thinks I'm doing a great job as a mom and she tells me so. (And what mom doesn't need to hear this?!)

Loving: My MIL loves each member of my family - from my husband to me to each of our three daughters - unconditionally. We don't always meet her expectations, but that doesn't change the way she feels about us. She doesn't play favorites with her grandchildren and she consistently communicates to us how much she loves us.

Patient: My husband didn't marry a woman exactly like his mother. In fact, I'm pretty sure we would be the exact opposite of each other on the Myers Briggs personality assessment. I'm a solid introvert, she's an off the charts extrovert. I'm more thinking, she's more feeling. And on and on. But that has never stopped her from trying to understand me throughout the fourteen years I've been married to her son. I'm glad she was patient with me in the early days of our marriage, when I was immature and less likely to try to understand her point of view.

Grandmotherly: My MIL loves being a Me-Me. She does exactly what I hope to do as a Shug (my grandmother moniker): she loves on her grandchildren, adores spending time with them, wants to get to know exactly who they are and disciplines them only when absolutely necessary. I love my daughters dearly, but I already look forward to the day when I can leave the training of children to them and just get the joy of loving their kids.

Helpful: While you're reading this, I'm at the beach while my MIL hangs out with my girls and helps get them to and from school in my absence. I'm grateful for that, but even more grateful to have her as a mother-in-law. Not just because she raised J, whom I love dearly, but for all of the things she is to our family and to me.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010


1 : exultant high-spirited joy : merriment
also: the funniest show on television right now

Tuesday nights bring a bit of a dilemma - Lost or Glee? These two, very different shows are my favorites on television so, of course, they are also on at the same time. I normally watch Lost live (or close to live after getting the girls in bed at 8ish), then save Glee for Wednesdays. The absence of a new Lost episode this week wasn't too heart wrenching because it allowed me to watch Glee on a Tuesday night. In case you don't watch Glee or (heaven forbid!) don't like Glee, here's why I think it's a fabulous show:

The Music: Given that I love this show, it may surprise you to hear that I hate musicals. People breaking into song all over the place? I mean, seriously. I just can't bear it. I can suspend my disbelief for a sci-fi movie far more easily than sit through My Fair Lady, West Side Story or any other musical I've ever seen, with the exception of Grease. But Glee is different. I think it's partly because they somewhat alleviate my suspension of disbelief issue by making singing an actual part of the plot. It also helps Glee's case that the music is good music - I find myself singing along to at least one number on nearly every episode and buying the soundtrack has turned my girls on to classics like Don't Stop Believin'. (You should hear our family belt that song out as we drive along!) Still, this can only take you so far - Glee has dance numbers in a mattress store, at the dinner table, in the hallways or, last night, in a roller rink. But I even enjoy those numbers because of one key factor...

The Snarkiness: A few saccharine musical numbers are well-balanced by Glee's snarky take on high school life. This show takes jabs at teenage pregnancy, counselors with no real life experience but loads of their own issues, high school crushes (of both the hetero- and homo- sexual variety), parents who push their kids with no real emotional investment in their lives, and many other topics. But it does all of this with...

A Shred of Truth: What makes all of the laughable circumstances laugh worthy is the truths that are taken and magnified by the show. A pregnant cheerleader whose coach and mom turn a blind eye to her condition? Um, yes, happened at my own high school. A wife who thinks pretending to be pregnant will save her marriage? Doesn't make it into my own personal experience, but well within the realm of believability. These shreds of truth are made more apparent by...

Great Characters: Sue Sylvester is one of a kind. While there have been other characters on TV that I love to hate, Sue is in a class all her own. She blackmails her boss, pressures her cheerleading squad, sabotages her colleagues and is generally despicable. But she also has a special needs sister and picked Becky to be on the squad. Quinn is classic - the head of the chastity club who gets pregnant, as is Kurt - the gay guy with a crush on the quarterback. But each and every character on this show is more than a stereotype. They have hidden sides that peek through and keep you watching, keep you guessing. And it doesn't hurt my love for this show any that Puck is on it. (I'll admit to a small crush, just between you and me.)

So if you're looking for a bit more merriment in your life, I'd like to humbly and enthusiastically recommend Glee.

Monday, April 26, 2010


Etymology: Middle English, to rear, from Latin educatus, past participle of educare to rear, educate, from educere to lead forth

2 a : to develop mentally, morally, or aesthetically especially by instruction b : to provide with information : inform

How much of education is an act of following? Yesterday afternoon, I went with A to see Nashville Ballet's A Midsummer Night's Dream. Before the ballet started, the Artistic Director came on to say a few words and announce that next year's season will begin with a full length Swan Lake and end with Carmina Burana. A immediately turned to me and said, "Can we subscribe? I want to go!" I merely smiled and encouraged her to keep listening, but as the curtain rose, I thought about how having A as a daughter has educated me on the ins and outs of ballet in a way I surely would never have known on my own.

Would I have found myself sitting in TPAC's Jackson Hall watching A Midsummer Night's Dream if I didn't have A for a daughter? Maybe, but it's not likely. J certainly would not have been interested in joining me. A play? OK. An orchestra performance? Definitely. A ballet? Is our daughter in it? By contrast, A soaks it up. Her eyes did not leave the stage from the moment the curtain went up until the moment it went down. I bought season tickets to Giselle and A Midsummer Night's Dream more for A than anything. She's obviously seen The Nutcracker, but I thought she would enjoy seeing other professional productions and this season's offerings seemed particularly well suited for her.

Interestingly, a book that I read recently made me decide that A and I should study a Shakespearean play together next year. (If other fifth graders can do it, why can't mine? And it fits perfectly with the historical time period we'll be covering!) When I asked her last week what play we should do, the first one she suggested was Midsummer or Hamlet (neither of which had made it onto my mental short list). At the time, I told her I wasn't sure Midsummer was a great choice. It can be a confusing play. Who loves Hermia? Lysander loves whom? And who is the guy walking around with a donkey head? But yesterday's performance was very easy to follow. I left thinking that maybe the best choice we could make would be to study the play and compare it to the ballet interpretation. So I told A that she can read six synopses of Shakespeare's plays and pick one for us to study. We'll do whatever she chooses.

Yesterday makes me excited to teach A more broadly next year. On our walk to meet J after the performance, we compared and contrasted The Nutcracker and A Midsummer Night's Dream. We talked about the different skill sets dancers needed to perform in each one (technical dance skills versus theatrical skills), then talked about which of the dancers in her own ballet class best embodied each type of dance. My daughter clearly doesn't mindlessly watch a ballet production. In fact, she probably notices things that escape my untrained eye.

I learned a lot yesterday - from the ballet and from following A's lead. When I started writing this post (during intermission yesterday), I didn't know that the etymology of educate is educere: to lead forth. A lead yesterday and I learned from the experience. It's my hope that next year will find us alternately leading and following each other through fifth grade. There are many things I can learn from trying to see the world through my daughter's eyes and maybe she can learn a thing or two from me as well.

My very own garden fairy, dressed for The Nutcracker

Saturday, April 24, 2010


3 : rainy weather

Today brought rain. I've been praying for rain for days, so I couldn't complain that it arrived on a Saturday. We had gone so long without rain that my allergies were aflame, my flower beds arid and my family exhausted. Maybe my family's exhaustion had little to do with a short drought, but the rain helped revive us nonetheless.

This week was busy: four days of testing at school, two nights of dress rehearsal, twenty-two volunteers organized, one recital, one 5 AM workday start for my husband. The result of all of this was one tired family, but today our schedule was blessedly open.

We walked to the neighborhood bakery for breakfast, taking our time to look at flowers, pick up leaves and chat about our favorite color to paint a house. Our girls love this little bakery, and rightly so. Between the five of us, we had a chocolate chip brownie, choco cinnanna coffee cake, a brookie, a chocolate chip scone, an apple danish and an egg sandwich on a cheddar cheese scone.

Thus fortified, we headed back, hurrying a bit to make sure we were home before the clouds that had gathered during our breakfast emptied. We beat the rain by about fifteen minutes and everyone curled up with a book. Our house was blessedly quiet, the sound of pages turning, minds and bodies recharging.

The afternoon was equally slow-paced, bringing the bonus of time with our nephew, who played, laughed, crawled... and cried a bit, as babies do. But one joy of watching him on his home turf was that no housework beckoned. When he went down for his nap, I laid on the sofa to read while J read up on the Milwaukee Brewers and the girls colored, read and played charades.

Our flowers needed today's rain. They needed that deep soaking that only rain can bring. We needed it, too. We needed a day forcibly slowed down, to help us unwind from a hectic week and ready ourselves for the final stretch of this school year. We needed to soak up some time together and I'm thankful that came with the rain.

Thursday, April 22, 2010


1 : to have a desire for (as something unattainable)

Morning seeps into my body, eyelids heavy, bones filled with lead, head achy, mind resistant to working. K is the first to appear - yet by the time she comes upstairs my husband is long gone to work and my alarm has reminded me two (or three?) times to get out of bed.
K clomps up the stairs and appears at my bedside, "Can I watch TV?"
"No, honey. It's a school day."
"Oh. Can I lay down with you?"
Up she climbs into the bed, blanket and all. We talk. OK, OK, she talks and I mumble responses until the alarm blares insistently that I get out of bed. This time, it means business.
I drag myself into the bathroom and pull on clothes while K retreats to her room to gather school clothes. I arrive downstairs to find A in bed, reading. I ask her to get dressed and shuffle into B's room, where I stop short of the bed. She is curled on her side, the comforter partly obscuring her face, fully and totally asleep.
I sit down and rub her back.
"Boo," I whisper to her, "Do you know that I love you?"
A nod is her mute reply.
"Do you know that I love your sisters? That I love each of you differently, but equally?"
Another nod, her eyes remain closed.
"But did you know that I when I see you like this in the morning, I think, 'She is like me. That is how I feel every morning.' Did you know that?"
A smile, her eyes open the tiniest bit. She rubs her eyes (again, just like me) and I reach down to retrieve a loose eyelash.
"Hey, here's an eyelash. Want to make a wish?"
"Mmmph. Yes." B's eyes finally open all the way and she reaches out, takes the eyelash from my finger onto her own and blows.
"What did you wish for?" I ask, not really expecting an answer. When I was eight, wishes were closely guarded secrets, never revealed for fear that it would remove the wish's power.
So I am surprised when she says, "To be a good mommy when I grow up."
"Oh, B," I murmur as I hug her, "you'll be a great mom." And inside, my heart whispers, "Yes! I wish that, too!"
Last night I lay in bed exhausted from a night of coordinating volunteers and dressing daughters for a dress rehearsal. And as I lay there, I thought about B. This is the first time in three years that she's danced in a recital. She took a year of ballet in kindergarten, but decided it wasn't her thing. Instead, she's played soccer and basketball and created lots and lots of art. But this year, she wanted to try a new Jazz Funk class, offered by a young, energetic and fun teacher. B has loved it. She's showed me her dance in bits and pieces as she's learned it. She had me buy the song on iTunes so that she could practice at home. She is having fun with it.

Still... dress rehearsals aren't exactly her thing. And her dance was the third to last to be performed - scheduled to start two hours after the first number rehearsed that night. So I had wondered how hours of sitting would go for her. If it were K, she would happily sit and watch the others perform. But this wasn't K. B watched a dance or two, but then retreated to her book. She read and read. She snacked. She chatted with me and a few others.
As we watched her big sister A dance, B asked me, "How many dances is A doing?"
"Three," I replied, wondering what response this would elicit.
"Oh, OK." was the mild reply.
B was a great sister last night. She supported A and K without the slightest evidence of envy and was well-behaved during a stretch of several hours when I'm sure she would have preferred to have been at home playing - or at least not waiting around to dance.

So as I fell asleep, I was thinking about this amazing middle child of mine and my wish was almost exactly what hers was this morning, "I want to be a good mom - to her and to her sisters." My heart aches with a desire to show them how much I love them and how proud I am of exactly who they are.

That eyelash this morning was a teeny, tiny blessing because it let my wish echo my daughter's.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010


1 a : not easily penetrated : not easily yielding to pressure
8 a (1) : difficult to bear or endure

I talked to a friend today who is walking through a valley. It's not the first valley she's walked and I found my love for and admiration of her grow as she confessed to feeling her faith tossed about during this time. She wants to walk with confidence, knowing that the outcome is in God's hands, not her own. But she feels every bump along the way. This makes me admire her all the more: that she can admit her life is hard right now.

I'm a bit fearful of people who have it all together. Or perhaps I should say that I'm fearful of people who appear to have it all together. Because do any of us really have it all together?

My friend is loving her family well but at great cost to her personally. Is that easy? No. And I think it's far better for her to admit to a friend that it's not easy than to put a happy face on it and pretend that she had superhuman strength. It's hard and it's OK to say that it's hard.

I think one reason my college experience was hard for me was because I went to a university that had a culture where it was of paramount importance to keep up appearances and I have always valued authenticity. And it's pretty difficult to be authentic when you're making sure everyone else thinks you have it all together.

I think it's interesting that the first definition of hard is "not easily penetrated." When our hearts are hard, it's easier to make it look like nothing is "difficult to bear or endure." It's only when we allow ourselves to admit that something is hard that we have hearts soft enough to be penetrated, which actually makes the enduring easier.

I wish I could be more like my friend. I don't wish I were in her circumstances, but I wish I had the mercy and grace to love people in spite of the hurt they've caused me. I wish I could set aside old wounds and love well. I'm working on that. In the meantime, I'm going to try to keep my heart soft, not hard. So that when the hard times come, I'll be able to bear them with grace and honesty.

Monday, April 19, 2010


1 a : to inspire with courage, spirit, or hope : hearten
2 : to spur on : stimulate

This weekend was our school art show. It was the result of the efforts of many people over a lot of time. It showcased work by more than 300 students and 16 guest artists. It brought together the families from our school. It was held at local businesses. And it was the vision of one great encourager: Miss Camilla inspires, heartens and stimulates all those around her, including her students.

Maybe as you read "school art show" above, you have an image of flimsy sheets of paper with lots of glitter and glue affixed to cinder block walls. You'd be wrong (well, OK, glitter and glue do abound). Picture instead portraits inspired by Picasso, hearts crafted by crayon artists under the guidance of an artist who looks at a box of crayons and sees a multimedia palette, kimonos crafted from paper, silk screened medallions and more. This is not a student art show. It's an art show. Each parent is given the opportunity to buy their child's art work and I found myself hoping that some parents missed out on their chance because I'd love to have some of this adorn my walls.

But even more than seeing the art, I loved seeing the artists themselves and imagining what they were thinking as they walked through the displays. Each student was given the opportunity to write an artist's statement describing their work and inspiration along with a short bio. I loved seeing what inspired them (everything from their friends to famous artists to comic books) and I loved seeing how many of them described themselves as artists. Because how can you see your work displayed in such a professional manner and NOT think you're an artist?

This art show is so much more than a way to raise money for an art department. It's a way to empower children to see themselves as both who they are right now and who they can become. And frankly, it's the kind of thing that makes me wonder how this homeschooling experiment next year will go. Because I'm pretty sure I won't be installing a one-woman show as the result of our year at home together. I worry less about whether my daughter will be appropriately challenged than whether she'll get enough time with other adults to help her see herself as she is. Because one reason these students believe Miss Camilla when she tells them they are artists is because she is not their mother. She brings to the table a perfect combo of knowing these children, loving these children, but having enough distance for them to trust her wisdom and expertise.

It's hard for a child to do that with her own parent. K and I were talking about homeschooling yesterday:
K: When you homeschool A will teachers come to our house?
Me: No, I will be the teacher.
K: You?! You aren't a teacher.
Me: But I will be A's teacher next year.
K: Well, you're going to have to teach her a lot of things.
Me: I know, honey. I can do it.
K ended the conversation a bit dubious that I'm up to the task. I think I can handle some fifth grade grammar, math and history. But can I help my ten year old see her own potential? Can I convince her that I'm not just a student of art history and literature, but a student of her? Or is a mother simply too close to hold up the mirror for her daughter to see herself?

I'm left admiring Camilla for the way she pours herself into her students, the way she encourages their efforts, stimulates their creativity and heartens their self-confidence. I'm left pondering how I can do this for my own daughters - and how I can do it in the lives of others. Because I want to be an encourager. I want to help others see the gifts they have and encourage them to use those gifts. I want people to spend time with me and leave feeling as hopeful as I did at the end of that art show on Saturday.

Photos are of student art from the Art Show.

Saturday, April 17, 2010


1 c : to close and open the eyes involuntarily
also, the amount of time it takes from your baby to turn into a young woman

A brought home her recital costume today. Her class is dancing to Gustav Holst's Mars as the planets. A is Neptune (which she finds very fitting since K is dancing in the recital as a penguin. According to A, this is perfect because, "Neptune is a cold planet and Neptune's sister is a penguin!").

Her costume, which I had not seen on her until today, is beautiful. But it's also a costume for a young woman, not a little girl. It is completely appropriate (I would expect nothing less from her dance school), but it's definitely the most grown up costume she's ever worn.

When she tried it on for us today, I thought, "I blinked and she grew up." She looked so poised, so excited, so... grown. While this is exciting, it's also a bit terrifying. I've had ten years of parenting little girls and while I am far from an expert in it, I mostly know what works for each of my daughters and mostly understand who they are.

That is all about to change. Because I know my ten year old A as a girl and she is transforming before my very eyes (or during the blinks of my eyes) into a young woman. Her arms are graceful, her eyes twinkle mischievously, her legs go on forever. She's still the A I know and love. She'd still rather curl up with a book than plant flowers. She still drinks water with every meal, declining any other liquid offered. She still keeps most of her thoughts to herself. She still has a good sense of humor, but it's an increasingly adult one.

So what now? How do I parent her well in these uncharted waters? How do I help her navigate the minefield that is adolescent friendship? How do I help her continue to dream when adulthood tries to anchor her more and more into the here and now?

I guess I'll do it the same way I've done it until now - carefully, day by day, asking for wisdom all the while. And, as much as possible, without blinking, so as to not miss a moment.

If you live in Nashville and would like to see A, B and K dance, their recital is Friday, April 23rd from 6:30 to 8:00 pm at West End Community Church, 235 White Bridge Road. There is no admission cost, but a love offering will be received. Feel free to e-mail me with questions.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010


: to run or go at top speed especially for a short distance

Parenting is more like a series of sprints than a marathon. This morning, between 6:45 and 7:45, I dressed, came downstairs, picked out clothes for a five year old, coaxed said five year old out of bed, made three English muffins (toasted with butter), packed three school lunches, mediated a breakfast tussle between a singing eight year old and an unamused ten year old, issued reminders to brush hair and teeth, asked the ten year old to please make her bed, reminded everyone to grab their backpacks and carted three girls to school. (By the way, this was a good morning with no fighting, mostly focused children, a relatively patient mom and an on time school arrival.)

Then I took a breath, went home and had a cup of coffee.
For the next seven plus hours (we're on extended school days), the sprint was over. I was able to walk, stroll or jog through my day. I was the pacesetter. Until 3:30 arrived. At 3:30 a three hour sprint began. It went something like this:
3:35 K emerges from school, shirt wet from drinking at the water fountain, pigtails drooping slightly, having lost their 7:45 AM perkiness.
K: "Mom, can I have a friend come and play?"Me: "No, sweetie. You have ballet today. You're going to get to ride to ballet with S. Want to go get changed into your clothes?"
K: "I get to ride with S? Great!"
K talks steadily as we walk to the van, where she promises to get dressed in her ballet clothes while I walk back across the street to wait for A & B.
3:40 A & B emerge, B with tears welling in her eyes. As we walk to the van, B relates how a classmate isn't talking to her because B tattled on her for something small. B has asked for forgiveness, but her friend refuses to talk to her. We get to the van to find K has been partially successful: pink tights adorn her tiny form, bunched at the ankles, sagging slightly at the crotch, barely meeting the top of her panties near the waist where she has pulled them as high as she can. I rectify the tights situation and help her into her leotard while praising her efforts. She had clearly been working on getting dressed for ballet, even if she didn't quite hit the mark. As she buckles up, I call my friend L, who is doing the front end of the ballet run today.
Me: "We're leaving the school right now."
L: "OK. I'll meet you at your house."
3:55 K and I stand at the curb with her booster seat, K munching on a pre-ballet snack, me reminding A & B that today is a 4:30 dance class, which requires a quick at home turn around. L pulls up, K climbs in and A, B and I head inside, where I get a snack for them as they sit down to do their homework. B cuts words, sorts them alphabetically and categorizes them while eating snack pack with the other hand. A heads to her room to do her worksheet. While B works, we chat about her classmate whose feelings have been hurt.
B: "She won't even talk to me. I tried to talk to her and she completely ignored me!"
Me: "Could you try writing her a note if she won't talk to you?"
B: "I did write her a note. It said, 'I'm sorry for telling on you about moving my book. It was silly.' But she wouldn't even read it.
Me: "Maybe you can write another one tonight and put it on her desk first thing in the morning. She might not know it's from you and she might read it. And really, honey, if you've apologized and asked her to forgive you, that's all you can do. You have to leave the rest up to her."
B: "OK. I'll try that. Can we leave for school early tomorrow?"
This discussion of leaving for school prompts me to look at the clock...
Me: "B! You've got to get your dance clothes on right now. We need to leave in five minutes. A! Get dressed. We need to leave for dance!"
The girls swirl into motion.

By 4:20, we're in the van (again) headed to dance class.
A: "Mom, did you know we've been in school for more than 100 days so far this year?"
Me: "Yes, sweetie. I remember the 100th day celebration."
A: "Well, I've decided that I want to write down 100 things that I'm grateful for and then I'll write down 100 things I love about my family and then... Well, that will be a surprise."
Me: "That's a great idea, A."
A: "Yeah, I've already started. Can I read you some of them?"
And the van fills with her voice of gratitude. So much better than any song I could play.

We arrive at dance a few minutes before the teacher pulls in, so I grab a moment to start jotting notes for this blog post (which has been swirling in my mind for the last hour).

A & B head into dance and I drive over to pick K and her friend, S, up from dance. On our way out of dance, we make a quick trip to the restroom.
From S's stall, I hear: "Um, Miss Shannon?"
Me: "Yes, S?"
S: "When I was going potty, my sticker fell off my hand and into the potty. Can I get another one?"
Me: "Let's go see if Miss P is still here."
Thankfully, the teacher is happy to supply a replacement sticker, so that mini-crisis is averted.

5:05 K and I pull into the driveway. I ask her to change out of her ballet clothes, then head to the kitchen, where I spend the next 45 minutes preparing dinner. I set the timer to remind me of when it's time to go retrieve A & B from dance and K sits beside me while I chop veggies, then fruit, happily chattering away. I take her up on her offer to help, only to find that she's deposited the fruit stems into the recycling because she deemed the garbage can too full. Yet it's the calmest 45 minutes I've had since 3:30, so I'll take it.

While I do feel like I sprinted through three hours of my life today, I figure I've built up my endurance by this point. From the moment our children arrive, fresh, new and bawling, we parent in sprints. They cry, we leap to respond. They fall, we jump to help them up, wipe them off, kiss it to make it better. It's almost like they know what we don't - that we need this early endurance training to make it through the years to come. Years where we will offer advice on classmates, replace lost items and love on them whenever we can.

I'm doing my best to run the race set before me, even if it leaves me out of breath at the end of the day.

Monday, April 12, 2010


: the second day of the week

What constitutes a good day? I'm sure there are as many different answers to this as there are people who read these words. Today has been a great Monday - beautiful weather outside, blissful quiet in my home, much needed rest for my soul. What made today a good day? While I don't think I could ever pinpoint or perfectly replicate what made today a good day, I attribute part of it to my intentional approach to the day. Instead of letting my schedule dictate my day, I started my day - my work week - by taking care of me.

I have a little desk upstairs that makes a great haven. It overlooks our backyard and I sat there with the window open and enjoyed the quiet sounds of our neighborhood - hammering going on down the street, two boys and their father biking through the back alley, the muffled sounds of life being lived.

At this desk, I spent some time studying about patience (and asking myself some hard questions about how my judgment of others inhibits my patience with them), then wrote some before moving on to a project I've been working on for a few weeks now. This project is just for me, with no real or pressing purpose other than it engages my mind and lifts my spirits, but I decided that was a worthwhile use of my time on this Monday morning. After feeding my soul for a bit, I headed for the treadmill and was pleased to find that my leg held up for a twenty minute walk. That may not sound like much, but it's steady progress and it encouraged me. (It didn't hurt that my treadmill time was accompanied by the reading of a good book: nothing makes the minutes tick by like reading while walking.)

The rest of my day was spent largely doing "productive things" - laundry, dishes, grocery shopping and the like. But when I think back on this day, it's the quiet start to my Monday that centered my soul and allowed me to be productive without fatiguing mentally or physically. I can't start every day like this. In fact, this may be the only day this week where I have time to do all of these things in exactly this manner. So for the rest of the week, I'll just have to take the snippets of rest and restoration where they can be found - in a few moments of Bible study, reading a few pages of my book, crafting a collage for my journal or sipping my coffee from my haven.

Sunday, April 11, 2010


2 : a crucial dividing point, line, or factor : turning point

Before we left to go out of town for Easter, I made a CD for us to enjoy for part of our ride. One song I included was an old favorite: Watershed by the Indigo Girls. I like a lot of their songs, but this one has been my favorite since I first heard it. As with many of their songs, the harmonies and images are beautiful - they not only sing, but paint a picture with their words. I also like that this is a song about how hard change can be. While change is something I am trying to embrace this year, I find I only seem to be able to change in fits and starts. I'll be receptive to the changes for a while, maybe even feel momentarily confident and bold in reaching for change. But then I'll slip up and revert to old patterns, digging my heels in instead of running (or even walking) towards something new.

At dinner last night, I told my sister-in-law that it recently occurred to me just how much change is sweeping our way in the next few months. We officially started our search for a new church home today and I'll embark on the journey of homeschooling a fifth grader in a mere four months. It feels like a lot to be undertaking all at once. But when I don't let my mind run away with me, I have peace about these choices. Peace that even though I can't know what the next six months or a year will look like, these are changes that need to be made.

Dealing with the changes that are most pressing is easier than dealing with changes that should happen, but won't unless I take the initiative. Changing relationship patterns that have been dysfunctional for years is harder than researching a home school math curriculum - and feels far less pressing, when I can just be my old self - an ostrich who sticks her head in the ground when hard choices present themselves.

So I'm trying to avoid standing at the watershed agonizing over choices. I'm trying to not end up where I started. I'm trying to get used to the country mile and enjoy the journey instead of focusing on the destination. Thank you Amy Ray & Emily Saliers for words to describe my own watershed and my desire to take stock of my life in five years and see that I've learned to face my path and make worthwhile choices.

Image is North Fork Big Lost River Watershed by Brian Ertz

Wednesday, April 7, 2010


1 : having qualities of beauty (loveliness) : exciting aesthetic pleasure

Before our Easter trip, I made a CD of favorite songs from iTunes for us to listen to on the drive. One of those songs was Something Beautiful by Needtobreathe. I've liked Needtobreathe for a few years now. A friend gave me their previous CD and I loved the rocking music with thought provoking lyrics. Something Beautiful, a new release, is no exception. It hits on a subject that's been on my mind anyway.

A few weeks ago, our pastor preached a sermon where it seemed to me he was cautioning against beauty. The outline said, in part, "Often, the most beautiful things in life make the most tempting substitutes for God." He described beauty as seductive and something to be guarded against. I don't agree with this. I think our hearts are designed for beauty. I think there's a reason that beautiful things excite our senses, our imaginations, our hearts.

I believe we need beautiful things in our lives. Without them, it's all too easy to focus on the hard, the difficult, the heartbreaking. But beauty lifts us out of our everyday circumstances. Beauty gives us somewhere to dwell.

This afternoon in the car, B was going on about feeling bad, feeling left out, feeling inadequate. As I listened to her list of grievances, her voice took on more and more of a whine. She sounded more like a 4 year old than an 8 year old.
I said to her, "Honey, what are you doing right now?""Complaining."
"Yes," I agreed. "What else?"
"Whining.""And who is choosing to think and feel this way?"
"I am.""B, I was just talking with some friends this afternoon about how we all have good and bad in our lives, but that it's up to us to choose what we focus on. You can keep thinking about the bad things or you can choose to dwell on the good."
I'm not sure how much of this sunk in to her, but her attitude did improve. And I do believe we can choose to dwell in the dreary things of life or in the beauty of life. We can look past the ugliness and gaze upon the blessings we have.

Now, as someone whose recently been through a proverbial valley, I don't want to give the impression that it's all happy-happy, joy-joy. There were days when I couldn't see past the end of my toes in trying to just get through the day. But beauty did help. A great book read at just the right time eased my recovery. A journal that I am decorating with collage right now is for no apparent purpose other than its beauty - and the lift it gives my spirits to work on it. Beauty has its place. Should earthly beauty satisfy the deepest needs of our souls? No, but I do want something beautiful. In the here and now. So as Needtobreathe sings, I sing along with them. I want something beautiful. And I want to choose to dwell there, in the beauty, not in the muck and mire of everyday life.

Photos are from the WECC Women's Retreat: a table full of beautiful things to enhance our time of solitude.

Monday, April 5, 2010


1 a : a receptacle made of interwoven material

A little over a week ago, A & B came up from playing in the basement and pulled me into a room away from where J was reading.

"Mom," they whispered fiercely, "Can you help us make an Easter basket for Daddy? We can call it Operation Daddy so that he doesn't know. We need you to buy stuff for us."

I smilingly agreed and turned a blind eye and dead ear to their preparations for two baskets. I was soon given a list of J's favorite things to procure (Mountain Dew topped the list, followed by Butterfinger candy bars). They enlisted the help of my mom as well, putting in a phone call to set up the plan and an e-mail with a list of requested items. Hours were spent in the basement, drawing pictures to put in the baskets they had found in the depths of our home and adorned with ribbon.

Friday as we packed the van, they worked together to find a spot where Dad wouldn't see his surprise (and I wouldn't notice the extra 'fun basket' they had packed).

Saturday morning found them bubbling with excitement. As soon as my mom arrived, they disappeared outside with her to put the finishing touches - and final candy - in the basket. Moments later, they proudly presented their creations to J and I.
My basket did contain some of my favorite treats (Reese's eggs and a drawing of a tree by B), but the real gifts here were much more lasting.

Seeing A & B...
work together,
delight in giving,
brainstorm about mom & dad's favorite things,
create handmade gifts, and
decorate baskets
...were far greater gifts than two admittedly great Easter baskets. As we enter the turbulent waters of preadolescence, these baskets are reminders that J and I must be doing something right.

artwork by B, age 8

Sunday, April 4, 2010


2 : the social unit formed by a family living together

When A was about 18 months old, J and I returned home from a trip to visit family. A, to our surprise, ran from room to room in the house. It took us a few minutes to see that she was making her way through every room in the house. A ended in her own room, where she basically threw herself on her floor and laughed. Looking at each other in surprise, we realized she was happy to be home.

Tonight our whole family felt like that 18 month old. After a fun, but quick trip to visit family in Alabama, we were all tired and very ready to be home. A few miles away from our house, J leaned over to me and said quietly, “When we get home, can we just sit for a little while? With no noise at all?” It will come as no surprise that I heartily agreed to this. What was a bit more surprising was the quiet that enveloped our house for the hour between our arrival and bedtime. Each girl went to her own room, where the older two curled up with a book and the younger started creating her own book about her weekend out of town.

It’s a blessing to have family near enough that we can visit for a weekend, even if it does leave J and I dragging on Monday. K had a fabulous time playing with her cousin who is six months older and it’s always a treat to head a few hours south and glimpse the Spring that will slowly be making its way to our very own neighborhood in a few days (or weeks). J commented today at lunch that one nice thing about this annual visit is that we get to be guests. We eat food that someone else lovingly prepares for us and get to just relax. But there’s something about home…

As I put A to bed tonight, I told her the story about that long-ago day when she was so happy to get back to her very own house. Wise beyond her years, she said, “My home will always be where my family is. It’s fun to visit, but I like to be home. People call a house a home, but that’s just because their family lives there.” Hearing her say those words brought to mind another memory of home.

J and I were living in Columbus, OH and I’d been out of town. I don’t remember where I’d been, but I do remember thinking, as the plane landed in this city where I lived for less than a year, “It’s good to be home.” “Home?” I thought to myself. And I realized that home was where J was. We were newlyweds then, but this was a truth that I learned early and still feel – home was with J.

So as much as I love visiting family in places near and far, I love our cozy home full to the brim with books and girls – and those I love most on this earth. Welcome Home, indeed.

Friday, April 2, 2010


: occurring in such quantity, quality, or scope as to fully meet demands, needs, or expectations (enough food for everyone)

I had a hard conversation with a friend recently about our decision to leave our current church (West End Community Church) in search of a new church home. She was gentle and honest and while I'm not sure she used these exact words, I came away thinking that part of her question for me was, "Aren't the friendships you have here enough? Doesn't the good outweigh the bad? Isn't it enough to know that my family - and many others - love you?"

These are hard questions because my friendships at West End have been enough for me for a long time. For years, nearly all of my friends have come from women I've met through church. And I have a feeling that throughout my life, I'll see these friendships as forming the basis of my understanding of what family friendships can and should look like. So why aren't these friends, many of whom love me better than I've ever been loved by anyone other than my husband, enough?

The community that I have at West End does meet my needs and exceed my expectations for friendships, but that's not all a church home is about. I have changed during the decade I've spent at this church. I entered the doors a skeptic and while I'll leave not completely aligned doctrinally with this church, I definitely leave as a woman who hears God's voice, seeks to be filled with his Spirit and longs to live like Jesus. Have I changed while WECC hasn't? I don't think so. Instead, I think it's like a relationship where the two partners ever so gradually end up distant emotionally, as they've evolved separately instead of together. I know my own heart better now and I have a clearer picture of what I need spiritually.

I find myself longing for a church that feels like it fits me more - one that turns many different art forms into worship, one where I'm not the only one with multi-colored hair, one where my daughters don't stand out for the way they dress or act, one where I can receive the sacraments from something other than disposable plastic cups, one where I can ponder the written word, one where I can find a mentor who is a stage ahead of me in this parenting journey, one where my children can form lasting friendships.

Will we find all of these things? I'm not sure. But I do have peace that this is the right move for our family and it occurred to me after my conversation today with this dear friend of mine that I am having to sacrifice some loving friendships for the things my soul needs. Because when you get right down to it, friendships, even loving, encouraging ones, can't be enough. The only thing that should be enough for me is God's best for me: his word and his spirit. I need to be able to grow more into the woman God made me to be and for some of the reasons I've talked about - and others I suspect I don't even see - I believe that growth needs to take place elsewhere.

I don't want to give the impression that I'm not sad about this. Good-bye sits heavy on my chest. But I can't deny that I have felt for weeks like there was freedom laying for me on the other side of this weekend's women's retreat. The freedom to share what God has taught me, yes, but also the freedom to leave West End knowing that I was obedient to God's call to share at the retreat and that I didn't leave without offering a final blessing to some of the women who have helped me know, understand and love God better.

And I need to remind myself on this Good Friday that this is enough for me because what we are called to remember on this day was that His sacrifice was enough. I'm not sure why our current church home isn't enough, but I am sure that I don't want to settle. I don't want to settle for less than God's best for me because that's not what Easter is about. Easter is, above all, about having our needs fully met.

Thursday, April 1, 2010


1 : b : much pleased : exultant
When I was out of town last weekend, I missed our school's first ever talent show. But I was around on Thursday for the dress rehearsal and got a cute preview of a dozen children who were preparing to take the stage the next night. This never ceases to amaze me: that children (ahem, or anyone) will run up onto a stage and do their thing.

8 year old B in her school play

When I asked B how the talent show went, she told me it was great.
Then she said wistfully, "I wish H's mom was my mom."
Smiling, I said, "Did I just hear you say you wish you had another mom?"
"Yeah! She rapped on stage with him! You would never do that."
"Well, you're stuck with me," I said as I hugged her and thought, She's right! I would never do that.
I remember trying to understand how my introverted daughter A feels when she dances. I can see with K what the motivation is - she visibly grows, brightens, expands when she is in front of people - even just guests sitting in our living room. This is clearly K's extroverted nature (and rightful place as lastborn) shining through.

5 year old K striking a pose

But A is not wired this way. She has never (voluntarily) performed in our home while guests are here, although she did once make an exception and perform her most recent dance for visiting family members. She is far more likely to be found in her room, curled up with a book, when we have a house full of people. So how can this child not just perform at a recital with a few hundred people in the audience, but at TPAC's Jackson Hall?

I think it's because A doesn't just dance as a pastime. She dances from a core part of who she is. She dances because she was made to dance. So when she's up there on the stage, she is opening up a box of gifts that her creator gave her, and she's spilling those gifts out at the feet of everyone watching.

10 year old A dancing

My reaction? Honestly, I normally cry. Not because I am sad, but because when I see my daughter bare her very soul by dancing in front of all of us, I am proud of her. I am much pleased. Not with her talent, but with her willingness to be vulnerable, to do what she was made to do, to exult in the gifts that she has.

Last weekend, I read the book Ish to a group of women and I encouraged them to look for the gifts in others so that they would eventually recognize their own gifts. I want to be proud of my own box of gifts and as willing to rip my box open and share it as my daughters are. Maybe then they could be proud of me - even if I will never, ever rap onstage with them.