Tuesday, November 30, 2010


1. the letters of a language in their customary order.
When we visited my parents for Thanksgiving, we exchanged Christmas gifts.  One lovely gift that I received and already love is book of Celtic Daily Prayer.   It's beautiful inside and out - gorgeous cover, thoughtful words, meaningful content.  Many things about it resonate with me, but one of today's readings particularly struck me.  It tells the tale of a Jewish farmer who mistakenly is stuck in his field during Sabbath.  When his rabbi admonishes him and asks whether he at least spent the time praying, the farmer says, "Rabbi, I am not a clever man.  I don't know how to pray properly.  What I did was simply to recite the alphabet all day and let God form the words for Himself."
This stopped me in my tracks.  I make things so complicated sometimes.  
 Why not just give God what I have and let him form the words?  
Why not give him my small successes (laundry, grocery shopping, home schooling and garlic cheese grits for dinner all in one day), my roller coaster of emotions (content with a quiet morning, thankful for a productive day, excited to have my daughters home, frustrated at their sniping at each other), my good, my bad and especially my ugly.  He knows what words need to be formed from the alphabet of my life, from the alphabet of my heart.

I'm trying to be intentional about Advent this year.  I figure my girls are old enough to do more than just sing Christmas Carols with me.  They can take turns reading scripture, listen to me read A Little History of the World to better understand what the world was like when Jesus was born, read Monday compline with me.  I'm lighting every candle we have, trying to make our environment beautiful and thoughtful.  I want the letters that comprise my alphabet to be ones that show my great anticipation in this season - for Christmas Eve's traditions, for Christmas morning's celebration, for Christ's return one day.
But here's the thing - the farmer didn't even construct words with the alphabet.  He simply offered them, as they were and trusted God would know what to do with them.  Even as I write this post, I'm trying to make my own words instead of just saying the alphabet of me over and over.  I want to be able to let God write my story instead of trying so desperately to wrestle the pen from his hand.  I want to have my alphabet on my lips and nothing more.  Nothing more. 

Monday, November 29, 2010


1. a toy, problem, or other contrivance designed to amuse by presenting difficulties to be solved by ingenuity or patient effort

Not a lot of school work was done in my home last week.  Monday morning our home contained two sickly members (B and I) and one (A) who was more than happy to skip school work while B and I nursed our Sprites. But by mid-morning, B wanted something to do.  We had just returned from running errands when she and A decided to tackle a puzzle I borrowed from my mother-in-law.  It's a 600 piece global puzzle that B and I completed a few summers ago in a Milwaukee basement.  I had asked to borrow it because I thought A might enjoy this as a hands-on complement to her geography class.  She's not as keen as B on puzzles, but she does seem to be really enjoying geography, so I thought it was worth a try.

I remembered the puzzle being large, so I encouraged the girls to start with it on the dining room table.  (I figured the likelihood of us using the table to actually eat when I felt so ill was low.)  They wanted to start on the floor.  Not wanting to control their fun, I let them get started there.  A few hours later, K's return home from school prompted a move - there's nothing like trying to keep your six year old sister off the puzzle to get you to move it.  We attempted to transition it to the card table, only to find it wouldn't fit.  After a bit of moving, a bit of re-matching pieces and a bit of frustration, the workspace was the dining room table.  (I didn't even say I told you so.)

I have fond memories of completing this puzzle the first time with B.  We worked on a glass table in the cool of my in-laws' basement.  B and I are a good team for this puzzle - she's better than I at spatial concepts and I'm better than she at geography.  When I was on my silent retreat I completed a puzzle and thought of B as I sorted the pieces into colors, then worked to reconstruct the image.  That was pleasant, but I confess to enjoying this puzzle with my daughters much more.

A started by pulling out her geography folder and opening it to a map of the US.  She then scoured the 600 pieces to find the ones that compose our country.  She meticulously put these together and only after doing that was she interested in helping B and I complete the border for the puzzle (which you may notice is missing a piece). 

The puzzle wasn't done when it was time to leave for my parents' house for Thanksgiving.  I made a modest attempt to at least straighten the dining room table - putting the ocean pieces that had been sorted alphabetically back into the box - but I left it largely untouched.  And it greeted us when we returned Saturday evening.  We walked into the house uniformly tired, cranky and thankful to be home.  After eating, the girls wanted to watch TV. Since they used no electronics on the eight and a half hour drive home, I thought it was only fair to let them unwind with a show before bed.  A bit before eight, their show ended and I encouraged them to get their pajamas on.  While watched TV, I'd been working on the waters surrounding Asia.  B saw this, changed into PJs and joined me.  We sat there, working together, asking for a piece here or there, offering help and finished the puzzle that evening.  It meant a slightly later night for our girls, but it was well worth it.

Toddlerhood was a hard parenting stage for me.  But I love, love, love having daughters old enough to work together on a project, who are learning every step of the way.  I especially like working on a project that highlights an area where B is already more gifted than I.  I can find a puzzle piece, but I have to turn it every which way to get it in.  B can look for the shape of the puzzle piece and get it right the very first time.  I think it's great for my nine year old to realize that while I may have more wisdom, she will be able to do things in her life that I could never do.  Not necessarily because she's smarter than I am (although she may well be), but because she's different.

When I started writing this post, I wasn't sure whether to entitle it "MAP" or "PUZZLE," but when I found the definition of puzzle, I knew that must be it.  Because putting together a 600 piece puzzle does require patience, but it also provided hours of amusement along with insight into who this puzzling daughter of mine is.  She's smart, she's patient and she's very fun to be around.

Pointing to Tennessee on the Puzzle
Now that we've finished this puzzle, I just might have to search for one of the US for us to do together... or an Advent one to keep as a quiet pastime that helps us relish the quiet, the beauty, the waiting of this season.

Thursday, November 25, 2010


1. a national holiday celebrated as a day of feasting and giving thanks for divine favors or goodness, observed on the fourth Thursday of November in the U.S. and in Canada on the second Monday of October

B woke up at 5:20 this morning.  Given that we spent nearly nine hours in the van yesterday and the girls went to bed after 9:30 last night, this was not good.  J and I told her to go back to bed and try to fall asleep.  We even suggested she sing her choir songs in her head to help her find sleep again.  Instead, from the room next door, I hear B urgently whisper her older sister's name once, then twice. Knowing this was a recipe for disaster, I crawled out of bed, put on walking clothes and told B to join me for an early morning walk.

As we walked, B commented on the many things she likes about Alabama: the quiet, the way we can see the stars so clearly, hearing an actual rooster welcome the day, huge pine cones, etc.  These ideas were shared on the front end of our walk.  But the time we were heading back, she had something else to offer, "You know what I don't like about Alabama?  It's moist."  She was right.  While it was only 6 AM, it was already muggy.  Not the weather you normally associate with Thanksgiving - at least not if you don't live on the Gulf Coast.

After we'd given everyone enough time to wake up, B and I returned inside, where I found myself making cranberry apple dressing to be a part of our Thanksgiving lunch.  I had intended to make the dressing, along with my Granny's cranberry salad, before leaving Nashville.  But a stomach bug left me feeling like the least interesting part of this Thanksgiving would be the food.  I did manage to construct the dressing without feeling nauseous, but I have a feeling I'll be less focused on the food today than in year's past.

All of this has made me think about what Thanksgiving is and isn't.

It's not about crisp autumn air when it's humid and nearly 80.
It's not about turkey and fixings when plain buttered toast will do.

It is about taking a day to remember all there is to be thankful for - from big things to little ones, life's everyday graces.  Because the big things merit thankfulness, but they are often enough to get my attention anyway.  It's the small things that I take for granted, that I want to be more awake to, more aware of, more regularly thankful for.

I figure it's no coincidence that Thanksgiving immediately precedes Advent.  While it isn't technically a part of the liturgical year, if ever there was a time of year to be thankful, it's Advent.  And I love the way Thanksgiving helps prepare our hearts for the coming of this special time of year.  Thanksgiving has always been J's favorite holiday.  For the first few years of our marriage, this puzzled me.  Who could possibly like Thanksgiving more than Christmas?  Christmas with its traditions, carols, trees, decorations and parties.  Christmas with giving and receiving, eating the same food's year after year, celebrating the birth of Christ.

But I get it now.  Thanksgiving is essential to Christmas and I love both holidays.  We can't properly celebrate Advent without having a mind set on giving thanks.  This is part of the reason we do a Thanksgiving letter annually instead of a Christmas card.  (Another reason is that it's far easier for my children to complete the writing prompt, "I am thankful for..." than "During 2010, I....")

So I hope today finds you thankful for wherever you are - with friends or family, in cool climes or warm ones, feasting or fasting.  And I hope setting your heart on Thanksgiving will prepare you for all of Advent's many graces.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010


1. overcome completely in mind or feeling

The time to get a stomach bug is not days before leaving to go out of town for Thanksgiving.  While there's never an ideal time to feel nauseous all day long, I would not have chosen to feel ill on a short school week - a week where I was hoping to cover some math with A, finish painting the dining room and complete preparations for going out of town.  But none of that has happened.  Instead, Monday morning found me with two children at home instead of the anticipated one.  B's stomach felt much like mine.  I knew things were bad for her when she made her normal breakfast of oatmeal, took two bites and said, "I can't eat this.  Can you throw it away?  The smell is making me sick."

I pushed through in the morning - running errands to buy envelopes for our Thanksgiving letter, buying more ink for the printer, etc.  But by afternoon I was spent.  So tired, in fact, that I did something I haven't done in several years:  I turned on the television at 4 in the afternoon on a school day.  Not for my children - for me.  I checked HGTV and the Food Network first - nothing interesting.  Then I remembered a post a friend recently wrote about Oprah.  I hadn't watched her show in years, but thought I would see the topic and whether it was something I could watch with A and B.  It said it was a show about Oprah's favorite things.  Sounded safe enough.

I tuned in and at first, B glanced up at the TV, then went back to her book.  After the audience started screaming when the first gift was revealed, B said, "What's this show?  It doesn't make any sense."  I explained that Oprah was giving the audience members her favorite things - starting with an iPad and ending with a VW Beetle, with lots and lots of stuff in between.  People in the audience were going crazy.  Screaming, crying, hugging each other, you name it.

As A watched, she said, "Is she just showing off or what?"  At first I thought she meant an audience member, but then I realized she was talking about Oprah.  B, who thought it would be awesome to be one of those audience members, was quick to defend her as generous.  But I thought A raised an interesting point.  It was all very conspicuous.  Do we like gifts best when we feel the giver is aiming for our thanks - not our delight?  Doesn't Jesus encourage - command us, even - to pray in secret rather than publicly so that we will pray for God, not men?  A, B and I talked about these things.  But we kept watching while we talked.  We watched people jump up and down, we watched Oprah play the audience and we noticed that while she was very publicly raining gifts down on these people who are strangers to her, it wasn't actually her generosity on display.  She was sure to give credit to each company that donated her favorite things.  Is this really generosity or is A right that it's showing off?

In this, as in many things, there are no hard and fast answers.  We did watch the show - we didn't turn it off in protest of the rampant consumerism and borderline greed.  There were surely people in that audience who left feeling incredibly blessed.  But as I watched, I found myself grateful to not be in that audience.  In part, I kept thinking about what a headache I would have if I were in that studio with people screaming all around me.  And I wondered what my own reaction would be.  Would I scream?  Cry?  Dance around?  Probably not.

I remember A's second Christmas - she has a January birthday, so she was nearly two.  We were at J's parents' house and had only opened a few gifts when A announced that she wanted to take a nap.  Knowing her own limits and feeling completely overwhelmed by all that was occurring around her, she simply decided a nap was the best choice.  That's how the TV show made me feel yesterday - totally overwhelmed and ready for a nap.

But it also made me thankful for daughters who see things a bit more critically than I would anticipate.  Daughters who don't take everything at face value.  If they can watch a stranger on TV give things away and wonder about their motivations, I can hope that discernment will serve them well in years to come.

Sunday, November 21, 2010


1. a narrative, either true or fictitious, in prose or verse, designed to interest, amuse, or instruct the hearer or reader; tale.
What things make your heart ache?  Last night, I was listening to The Story of the World, Volume 4 audiobook with my daughters.  The chapter we were listening to was on WWI and the subsequent Treaty of Versailles. It's difficult to listen to this, knowing what comes next.  I want to jump into the story and say, "No!  Don't do it!  Don't put such harsh penalties on the Germans.  Show some mercy.  You'll demoralize them to the point that they'll listen to anyone who can make them feel better about themselves.  And you can hardly envision the evil incarnate who will step in to fill that gap."  I literally cried as I listened.  Because the story of our world is not a kind or gentle story.  It's not the kind of story that leaves you feeling warm and content inside.  It is a story that screams for redemption and makes my soul scream for the redeeming to start right here, right now.

This is a story that stays with you.  Today I was thinking about Woodrow Wilson's League of Nations and how he was able to convince the Europeans to join, but couldn't convince Congress to go along with it.  The US was isolationist and basically took the attitude that Europeans could worry about Europe.  This train of thought led me to an uncomfortable parallel in my own life.  I feel like being a bit of an isolationist right now.  Middle school seems like one big, daunting morass.  So I'd rather just home school for a few years and wait to be able to see the light at the end of the tunnel.  Because if I send them to a school that's a work in progress, it would require that I pour myself into that school in order to make it work - not just for my girls, but for the whole community.  And while that's a good and worthy thing, what I feel like doing is pouring into my daughters and my family right now.  Is that isolationist?  I think it might be.  Is it wrong?  I don't know.

Isolationism might also be a valuable chapter of not only my story, but the stories of my children.  Pouring into them in a unique, consistent and concentrated way for a few years might enable them to be light and salt to the world instead of travelers who are constantly needing to shelter their small flame from life's raging storms.  What if an isolationist chapter in our story yielded daughters who are beacons instead of pinpoints of light?

I try to refer to my knowledge of history and see whether there are lessons in it for me.  Was the US able to use a period of inward focus to then come to the aid of others in need?  I'll confess that my knowledge of the World Wars is sketchy, but I do remember standing with my husband in a WWII museum in Germany, studying the timeline and seeing Hitler continue to march through Europe year after year while my country did nothing.  I turned to J and said, "Why?  Why did we wait so long?  Who could have been saved?"  I'm telling you, it's a sad story.  And while ultimately the good guys won, far too many lives were lost.

So what is the lesson in this for me?  I really have no idea.  Is isolationism the right choice for a season?  Again, I have no answers.  I do know that I want my story and my daughters' stories to be different than The Story of the World.  I want our stories to be about redemption.  A friend of mine was recently sharing that her son asked why he couldn't watch certain movies.  She gave him the answer she was able to come up with at the time (the one many of us give about inappropriate content, etc.), but her husband gave her son a great answer.  He basically said, "I'm not going to let you watch those movies because they tell the wrong story.  God's story is one of redemption.  And if you're watching movies that don't tell that story, you're not getting the whole story."  
That is what I want.  I want my story to be one of redemption.  I hope God is at work right now redeeming the mistakes I make daily with my daughters.  I hope he is gentling their hearts as they receive consequences for poor choices.  I hope he's planting forgiveness there for the times when I am selfish, too short with them and unwilling or unable to give them what they need.  I hope my failures point them to his redemption.  That is what makes my heart ache: that the story of our world is so sad.  Here's what gives me hope: the story of redemption is still be written.

Friday, November 19, 2010


1. not influenced or controlled by others in matters of opinion, conduct, etc.; thinking or acting for oneself.

I am raising such independent daughters.  In the main, I consider this a good thing.  A great thing, even.  But that's when I take the long view.  In the short term, it can be frustrating, disappointing or even a little sad.  Sometimes it's all three of these things at once.

Tuesday was K's Thanksgiving Luncheon at school.  I had RSVP'd to her teacher that I would be there, but hadn't mentioned it to K.  She was pleased to see me when she walked into the hallway and chattered away as we walked to the cafeteria.  As a treat (is this really a treat?), I let K buy her lunch.  It's the first time this school year she's purchased lunch instead of eating a lunch packed at home, so she was excited to stand in line and give her money to the cashier.  After she had her tray, there was much debating about where to sit.  She wanted to sit by P, then by M.  The tables were rather full at this point.  I asked K if she wanted to move to another table.  That wasn't a good option since she wanted to be sitting with her friends.  We finally settled down beside K's friend P and K started to eat  her turkey and dressing.  
After a few bites, K leaned over and said to me, "You can go now."
Me: "Go where, honey? Do you need me to get you something?"
K: "No, you can go sit at another table."
Me: "Don't you want me to stay with you while you eat your lunch?"
K: "Is it OK with you if you go?  I want to eat with P."
Me: "Well, OK.  But if I go, I'm not going to go sit at a table by myself.  I came to eat with you."
K: "I can sit by you next Thanksgiving, right?"
Me: "Sure you can.  Are you positive that you want me to go?"
K: "Yes. You go home."
Me: "Can I have a hug and a kiss before I go?"

After several hugs and kisses, I headed out.feeling a mixture of pride, disappointment and amusement.  I'm frankly a bit proud of K that she was willing to admit she'd rather have lunch with her friend than with me.  I was a bit disappointed that she chose the friend over me, but felt far more amusement at the situation than anything else.  It's rare that I join my children for lunch at school.  It's hard to talk over the din in the cafeteria, they enjoy their time with peers and I would rather eat my lunch at home than pack it up to eat in a cafeteria.  So as I signed up and joined K for lunch, I was thinking this was a treat for her.  Turns out that was more my impression than hers.  Which was fine.

Until my cell phone rang about ten minutes after I'd left.  Turns out K changed her mind and had been crying since I left.  Ahh, the joys of parenting, where conceding to a child's wish leaves her in tears.  Oh, well.  We can sit together next Thanksgiving, right?

Thursday, November 18, 2010


1. a notice of the death of a person, often with a biographical sketch, as in a newspaper.
As I cleaned my bathroom today, it occurred to me that my obituary will not read, "She kept a meticulous home."  It made me smile, which was good because cleaning doesn't generally bring a smile to my face.  I am blessed to be married to a man who has a pretty high threshold for household clutter and general messiness.  He is by no means a neat freak.  Which suits me just fine since I can almost always find something I would rather do than clean.

So while my obituary won't make reference to the floors of my home and how they sparkled or the windows and how they shined, I hope friends will remember a house that felt like a home, even when they first came here.  I hope they'll remember thinking, "You can tell a family lives here."

My children won't sit around at Christmas in the years after I'm gone and miss my dust-free bookshelves, but I hope they'll remember the books we read together.  I hope K will still love setting the table - laying out the place mats and napkins, asking if it's a "special night" and we can light candles.  I hope B will make her own tomato tart - hopefully changed up a bit from my version, to make it all her own.  I hope A will slice into a loaf of bread she's baked and remember this week - her very first bread making experience, courtesy of a kind friend.

My obituary won't reference my fabulous gardening skills, how my children were always spotlessly dressed in freshly starched dresses or how effortlessly put together I always looked.  But maybe my children will remember raking leaves as a team - not only in our yard, but all the way down our street as an offering to neighbors.  Maybe B will always remember wearing my high heeled sandals to church while I was out of town and maybe K will recall asking her dad if she could go to church with a helmet, knee pads and elbow pads adorning her (the answer to that was no).  Maybe A will smile as she puts on her button down shirt and khakis and think about how her mom was most at home in skirts and boots.

I'm only 37 (and that for only a few more weeks), so I have no idea how I will be remembered.  But I know some of the ways I don't want to be remembered:
  • For the food I cooked instead of who I cooked it for
  • As someone whose floors mattered more than those who walked on them
  • For choosing work over play
  • As someone a woman whose entire identity was wrapped up in her children
  • As one whose faith was evident only on Sundays
  • As a mom who was more worried about what my children wore on their bodies than what went on in their hearts
  • As a wife who chose my children over my husband
  • As a friend who never let her guard down
  • As someone who was scared to embrace life
  • As a keeper of a meticulous house - there are far more important things

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


1. a division or subdivision of the stem or axis of a tree, shrub, or other plant.
I found a spot I liked for breakfast at my retreat last weekend.  The dining room had lots of windows with lovely views, but I liked a little table where I could sit at an angle, prop my feet up and look out.  On Sunday morning, I spied a tree with a most unusual branch - it was shaped like a question mark.  (I realized as I pulled into the monastery gates that I left my camera at home, so you'll have to make do with word pictures of this tree instead of actual pictures.)
This branch had clearly started its journey growing west, for it continued up in that direction for several years before it apparently decided it was more suited to the east's morning sun.  At which point, it began to change course, arcing gently but gracefully in the exact opposite direction from where it started.  I love this.  
I love the way it looks, for one thing.  It stands out from the other branches that are doing the expected thing and growing where they are placed.  But I also love that this branch doesn't change where the tree itself is pointing.  The branch may be confused about where it should go, how it should grow - or not - maybe this branch is meant to be different to call our attention.  Regardless, the tree still ends up exactly where it should be, going where it should go.

I think this is a good metaphor for me in parenting.  I can see tendencies in A to perhaps take some paths I wish I had bypassed myself.  But I think even my detours won't keep me from being who I was made to be, nor will A's.  This is especially important to remember as a parent because I have no idea where life will take her.  If I charted A's course, I would likely get her so far off course she would need a navigator to get her back to the right hemisphere.  I'm her mother, not her master planner.

I hope to remember this as I visit middle schools, check boxes on a form and wait to hear about A and B's school options for next year.  Left to make the decision myself, I would home school them both next year.  But we are merely twelve weeks into the school year.  Who knows how I'll feel by March or April?  It's not that it's been terribly easy, this home schooling thing.  On the contrary, I am finding out how little I know about fifth graders in general.  I'm finding out how little I understand about what motivates A specifically.  But she is learning and I am, too.

So I'm going to resist the urge to master plan for next year, the year after and the next six years of A's schooling.  I'm going to resist the urge to prune choices before I know whether they will bear fruit.  Instead, I want to be thankful for the branch that homeschooling is on our trees, no matter its length or ultimate direction.

Friday, November 12, 2010


1. the end of a week, esp. the period of time between Friday evening and Monday morning

Not setting an alarm: sleeping until you wake up - or at least until your children wake you up

Reading a chapter of your current book in bed before you emerge to start your day

Eating a breakfast made by someone else (especially someone else who loves you)

Sipping coffee while munching on a Bagel Face Bakery bagel (the best bagels in Nashville!)

A walk in the fall air

Football on TV

The windows open and the sound of children playing filtering inside

Soup bubbling on the stove

Your family around you

Whatever says "weekend" to you, may you have it in abundance.  I am heading off to a silent retreat.  My first.  I go with excitement, anticipation, nervousness, fear - all bundled up together.  But I am anticipating rest, so I wish that for you as well.  Seize it in whatever form it takes for you this weekend.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


:the fourth day of the week, following Tuesday

I've come to dread Wednesday afternoon, no matter how diligently I prepare for Wednesday morning.  I attend a weekly Bible study with an amazing group of women.  While we talk, share and pour out our hearts, A is in an upstairs bedroom.  Theoretically, she is doing school work during this time, but the lack of self-discipline I have been exhibited today and last week is stunning.

Last Wednesday morning, A was given an assortment of work to complete - math, Thanksgiving study, art and more.  What did she actually do?  Almost nothing.  Instead of working, she spent her time gazing out the bedroom window, reading and daydreaming.  There were consequences.  We had planned to go straight to the library after study, but instead headed straight home, where she worked quite diligently on her school work in order to have her work done in time to attend Barefoot Club, a once monthly gathering of kids from her favorite summer camp.  Both J and I talked with A about her behavior.  We had hoped that this, coupled with the consequence, would help bring changes.

Before this morning's Bible Study, I prepared.  I found an art lesson on portraiture that tied to our Thanksgiving Unit Study.  I wrote out her assignments in her agenda.  I taught her math lesson this morning to be sure she understood the new material.  I even gathered the books she would need, stacked them together and reviewed all of my preparations with her last night to be sure she was clear on the work.

I was actually hopeful as I headed upstairs at noon.  Hopeful that I would find her on the bed reading, her work complete beside her.  This was not what I found.  What I found was a child who had completed three of six set tasks and was only a fraction of a way through the fourth.  Instead of reliving last week's questions about how she spent her time, I went downstairs and gathered my things, hoping to gather my emotions and some wisdom at the same time.  I'm still waiting for some wisdom to arrive.

In the meantime, I handed A a fresh baked brownie, drove her to Chick-Fil-A to grab lunch, then made her sit outside the library to do her math.  This might not seem like a punishment on a beautiful fall day, but I can assure you that this child would have far preferred walking a library aisle to sitting at a picnic table doing math.

I do have some responsibility in this - I did not properly label the priorities of the assignments. (I would have preferred she start with math instead of leaving it until last, for example.)  But I'm not sure this matters a great deal since she didn't make it halfway through the list of assignments.

In looking back through a record of A's work on Wednesdays, it seems that the most she has been able to complete is 3-4 tasks.  Regardless of how many or few things I give her to do, this seems to be her internal limit.  So do I set my expectations - and future assignments - based on the data I have from weeks past?  Do I accept that A is going to be less productive when she does not have direct supervision?  Do I give up Bible Study as soon as my current study is complete?  Or are these Wednesdays supposed to teach me something, too?

What if I'm supposed to be learning to appreciate a child who can entertain (if not educate) herself for two or three hours?  Or learning to be thankful for the work she does get done, instead of lamenting all that is left on her to-do list?  What if a lesson I need to learn is that home schooling this fifth grader is going to require school work on Fridays, something I have eschewed thus far?  In short, what am I learning?  And am I applying what I'm learning or doing the exact same thing and expecting different results?

I'm discouraged by setbacks like this and A's loneliness, but I continue to enjoy home schooling.  I know A is learning.  Her math skills and, even more importantly, her confidence in math have vastly improved.  She is able to calculate problems in her head that would have frustrated her on paper weeks ago.  And I'm learning, too.  Just today, A and I discussed how Andrew Carnegie's principles of philanthropy were good and bad, alongside a discussion of what life might be like if the industrial revolution hadn't happened.  These are good conversations - for me and for A.  But they are also fleeting and I feel the sting of a morning gone awry far longer than I feel the glow of a well spoken insight.

So what now?  I'll keep walking along the path we're on and keep tweaking to see what works and what doesn't.  Next Wednesday, I'll try shortening the assignment list and see whether that yields better results and a happier mom and daughter.  In short, I'll just keep trying.  Because it's too important for me to just give up.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010


1. in what way or manner; by what means?
2. to what extent, degree, etc.?
3. in what state or condition?
4. for what reason; why?
5. to what effect; with what meaning?

A friend asked me yesterday how I manage to get three daughters to their assorted activities.  This friend also has three children, but they are younger than my children and only two of them are old enough to have activities, play dates, etc. She was on her way to an activity as we spoke and she seemed a bit torn between her own desire to work out and her child's desire for more time with friends.  Before I proceed to attempt to answer this question of how I do it, let me briefly outline a typical week of activities for our family:
Monday - Spanish Club for A from 3:30 to 4:30
Tuesday - Dance for A from 4:30 to 7:30
Wednesday - Dance for K from 4:00 to 5:00
Thursday - Dance for A from 5:30 to 7:30
Friday - Dance for K from 5:00 to 6:00
Saturday - Dance for A from 9:00 to 12:00
Sunday - Choir for B from 5:45 to 6:30
These are simply the standard weekly commitments.  In a given week or season, we may have an evening class at church, soccer practice and games, basketball practice and games, Vanderbilt football games, Vanderbilt basketball games, a community group gathering, etc.  If A were doing The Nutcracker this year, she would have those rehearsals on top of everything else listed above.  This often required Saturday afternoon dance sessions after three hours in the morning, or a rehearsal on a Wednesday or in place of her regular classes.  Looking at the above, I'm grateful for the decision we made weeks ago to not allow A to dance in the production this year.  It would have been too much.

I'm sure there are some of you who are thinking, "That would have been too much?  What you're already doing isn't too much?"  Others may have their own busy schedules and look at our schedule and think, "Well, at least there's not more than one activity on any given day."  We've been in seasons where B had soccer practice on a night when A had dance.  That requires two parents on deck to help with transportation - not to mention feeding us all when we finally straggle in.

But here's why I think this isn't too much, at least for right now:  my girls each delight in their activities.  It has been particularly encouraging to have finally found something that B loves doing.  Choir practice is the highlight of her week and she wishes it came around more than once weekly. In fact, she's hoping to join our church's advent children's choir since their rehearsals don't overlap with her current commitment and I would love to find a piano teacher for her.

So you've had a glimpse of what I do.  How do I do it? 
...imperfectly (in what way or manner). 
...the best I can (to what extent, degree). 
...tired, with headaches, with joy, with focus (in what state or condition). 
...to help my daughters find, then grow into, their gifts (for what reason). 
...because I love them, because I want them to know themselves and their capabilities, because I want to be a part of them changing from who they are now into who they are meant to be (to what effect; with what meaning).

I'm not saying you should let your children follow their every whim.  I'm not saying you should expend all of your energy on driving your children to and fro, with nothing left for you, your spouse, your God.  In fact, I'm not telling you what to do at all. I'm simply saying that this is a hard part of parenting for me.  I'm an introvert who dearly loves her time at home, with hot tea and a good book.  And yet.  And yet I love seeing these girls of mine spark to certain things.  I love nurturing those sparks, cupping them in my hands and giving breath and life to them.  And if our life looks a little crazy, that's because it is.  But it's very, very good, too.

K, A and B - the why behind the how

Sunday, November 7, 2010


1. soft or delicate in substance; not hard or tough: a tender steak.
2. weak or delicate in constitution; not strong or hardy.

This afternoon our family went for a walk.  We progressed in fits and starts.  Two scooters for three girls meant trading off periodically.  Two parents on foot meant power walking occasionally to keep the scooter borne girls in sight.  The last time the girls and I went to this greenway to talk (over fall break), we brought along colored pencils, crayons and paper for sketching.  K liked that idea, so in addition to stops required to explore off the trail, we had to have an art break or two.

Shortly after one of our art breaks, B was zooming along on her scooter, trying to catch up to K.  J and I were walking along behind when we saw B turn around and head back.  "Oh, no!" she exclaimed surveying the ground, as she crouched over a section of pavement with her hand over her mouth.  As we got closer, I wondered what had left her so dismayed.  I could see a small object on the ground, but a scooter is not really a deadly weapon, so I couldn't imagine what harm she had inflicted.  Only when we were nearly upon her was B able to pull herself together enough to say, "It's a caterpillar.  Just like Mr. Fuzzy.  And I killed it."

B is a caterpillar lover.  She has found, rescued and nurtured three or four of these creatures (albeit to varying levels of success).  Her latest caterpillar, Mr. Fuzzy, was the result of a trip to the zoo.  I told her it is quite likely she was the only child that day - or that week - to visit the zoo and leave with a live animal.

Mr. Fuzzy

Each member of our family had their own reaction to the death of this small, fuzzy insect.  A was quick to tell B that the caterpillar was in heaven.  B's reply?  "That doesn't make me feel any better, A!"  J gave B a hug and murmured a few sympathetic words.  K was oblivious and cruised ahead on her scooter.  My reaction?  Independent of B's distress, this poor dead caterpillar would barely have registered with me.  But a distraught daughter certainly elicits a different reaction. 

As B sat on the side of the track with tears streaming down her face, I struggled to find the right words.  I made a few meager attempts.  I told her that the three or four caterpillars she had rescued outweighed this one accident.  She (rightly) rejected that - don't we all wish our good deeds would make up for our mistakes, while we know deep in our hearts that they don't make right our wrongs?  I reminded her that it was an accident, but this brought little comfort.  Knowing that she didn't mean to hurt the caterpillar didn't erase the fact that she had.  Finally, this Word Girl sat there beside her tenderhearted B and just listened.

There were no words I could offer that would mitigate her hurt.  So I just listened and nodded as she talked about how Mr. Fuzzy would have loved having this caterpillar for a friend.  I held her as she sobbed that she is glad to have sisters (unlike Mr. Fuzzy).  I agreed when she said that A or K would not have been as upset had they been the one to run over the caterpillar.  I remained silent when she said it would have been better had she not gone back to check and see whether she'd run over him.  What could I say to that?  It was over and done before that return trip on the scooter and I have a feeling this was meant to be a part of B's journey today.

This middle child of mine is such a complex being.  She can throw out a harsh word to her older sister, read a book to her younger one and cry over a caterpillar, all in the span of a few hours.  I hope she grows and matures into an amazing woman.  One who is undeterred when others doubt her abilities or don't share her vision.  One whose heart still aches over life's little and big hurts.  One whose heart still holds a tender spot for caterpillars.  Because her soft heart does not render her weak (another definition of tender).  No, it doesn't make her weak at all.  I have a feeling that as she matures, her tenderness will be her greatest strength.

A Tenderhearted Girl

Saturday, November 6, 2010

LIBRARY, part 2

1. a place set apart to contain books, periodicals, and other material for reading, viewing, listening, study, or reference, as a room, set of rooms, or building where books may be read or borrowed.

A short while ago, I wrote a post about what books every home library should contain.   I focused that list on picture books or board books, the kind my daughters loved to have read to them before they could read themselves.  But once they learned to read on their own, we needed a few more shelves for the library.  I must confess that I find it difficult to recommend exactly what needs to go on these shelves.  It depends so much on who your child is.  Read on and you'll see what I mean.

I struggle to remember the first books A loved to read.  Once she turned the corner and started reading, she simply read anything she could get her hands on.  That's one thing that makes the early reading stage so difficult for a post of this sort.  It's also difficult to find true classics that help your child transition from reading simple books to more complex ones.  So pardon the lack of true literature that you'll find here.  Its absence might still let you find a book your child would love.

One early purchase that A and B both loved was The Biscuit Storybook Collection. These books are very easy to read, but since they are bound in one edition, it managed to hold my daughters' attention for a bit longer.  B especially is a huge fan of dogs, so it didn't hurt anything for the main characters in the story to be a little girl and her dog!

Only a mom of daughters could recommend this, but A and B both loved (and even now will re-read) the Rainbow Magic fairies.  To say that these books are not high art is an understatement.  Yet these are the books little girls love.

Another series that J found for A was the Secrets of Droon.  Like the fairy books, these are quick and easy reads, but when my daughters were in 1st or 2nd grade, they wanted books they could finish in a sitting or two.  And if that gets them reading, who am I to argue?  Especially if it helps them segue to a set like the Roald Dahl box set that A's aunt and uncle gave her several years ago.  Sure, she read them all in a matter of days, but she's read them several times since, as has her sister.

J and I have also introduced our girls (with varying levels of success) to the books of our childhood: Trixie Belden, Encyclopedia Brown, The Boxcar Children, Nancy Drew, Choose your Own Adventure, etc.

A loved - and loves - historical fiction, so The Little House on the Prairie series and Anne of Green Gables series were both hits.  I'll admit here that I didn't love Laura Ingalls Wilder, but Anne is another story.  She's like an old friend and I loved seeing my daughter fall in love with her, too.

B, on the other hand, doesn't care much about historical fiction.  She's recently been more amenable, but the first books I can remember that truly sparked her love of reading were the Time Warp Trio books.  I'm not sure whether it was the catchy titles, the time travel component or the books' irreverence, but I'll forever be grateful to have found them.  This series, which we found the summer between first and second grades, turned B from a child who thought, "I can read" to one who thought, "I love to read."  What a glorious transition!

There are many, many more, including Paddington Bear, whom B has a special fondness for (I think it's because he manages to get in more trouble than even B can muster).  What are your favorites?  What made your children jump from the ability to read to the desire to do so?  I'll get to watch that transition one more time with K and I'm sure I'll need a new book - or two or three - to help her along.

Thursday, November 4, 2010


1. affected with, characterized by, or causing a depressing feeling of being alone; lonesome.
3. lone; solitary; without company; companionless.

Today I encountered the biggest obstacle so far to home schooling: A confessed that she misses her friends.  As we walked through our neighborhood I asked her about it.  The conversation started because I overheard her tell her sister, "Trust me.  You don't want to be home schooled.  Even I miss my friends."  This was a few days ago, but I waited for the right time to ask for more information.  Our walk today seemed like the right opportunity - low key, we had a few minutes to talk, etc.  Basically what she told me is that she misses her friends and the casual interaction she used to have with them.  She misses saying something funny and having a friend laugh at her.  She misses just hanging out together.

This is harder than just about any other obstacle to home schooling I could have envisioned because I am so uniquely ill equipped to deal with it.

My heart broke a little as I listened to A describe how she used to like saying something off the wall and making a friend laugh.  (Her most frequent companion - me - doesn't have the best sense of humor and certainly isn't as silly as your typical fifth grader.)  And the heartbreak didn't get any easier as we tried to brainstorm ways to make things better.  I'm short on ideas.  I tried to provide for this on the front end of our year:  A does Spanish lessons, tutorials and dance classes with other girls her age.  It's not enough.  While she enjoys her tutorial, she's not forming close friendships there.  I think seeing them only every Tuesday hasn't been enough for an introvert like A.  She dances three days per week, but clearly the bulk of that time is spent dancing or listening to the teacher, not playing.  So what am I to do?  We already have after school activities every single week day - Monday through Friday.  Where do I fit in play dates for her?

I know how she feels.  The final gift I received from the recent death of a friendship was a true understanding of the emotion of loneliness.  Because I now know what it used to be like to share a frustration, a challenge or a laugh with someone just by giving her a quick call.  Unlike A, I'm trying to hang on to this loneliness a bit and let it do its work on me.  If loneliness is supposed to remind us of the value of relationship, it should (perhaps?) ultimately motivate me to try again.  But I find as I try to envision that, there is still a piece missing.  I know the value to me of a friendship, but I'm still a little foggy on what I bring to the table.  I'm waiting for the lesson to migrate from my head to my heart.

So how does a mother as conflicted and ineffectual at friendship as I help my 10 year old determine a way to combat loneliness in a home school environment?  Is it possible to teach your children skills you don't possess yourself?  Is this a battle she's meant to fight alone or the result of a choice J and I made on her behalf?

I'll admit this is an example of when I struggle to stay in the moment.  I hear A describe her solitude and I envision years of being a loner because her parents mistakenly thought a year of schooling at home was a good thing.  We can't go back.  We can't enroll her in a suitable school at this stage in the game.  So how do I go forward and help her navigate this year day by day?  Because I don't want us to give up on our year together right now.  We're only nine weeks in.  There's too much ground left to cover, too many experiences left to share, too many surprises to uncover together.

A - All Alone

Wednesday, November 3, 2010


2: following; subsequent; consequent
I've found that there are projects I can not complete concurrently.  Things that demand I do them sequentially.  These things are most often creative projects.  Sunday after church, J and the girls dropped me off at Michael's while they made a quick trip to Trader Joe's to stock up on roasted seaweed (my favorite snack!) and a few other items.  Since I was at Michael's, I thought I'd collect supplies for two or three projects that I hope to complete in the coming weeks.  But as I walked the aisles, I got more and more muddled as I tried to determine my vision for not one, not two, but three, projects.
Feeling somewhat disappointed in this limitation, I nevertheless gave in to it.  I  walked back down the aisles, returning the few odds and ends for projects #2 and 3.  With my cart - and mind - clear, I was able to determine the items I needed for the task at hand.  This project - and the others - involve the participation of my family, even if I'm the Wizard of Oz lurking behind the curtain.  It's my job to decide on the project, collect the requisite materials and then corral my family into helping.  Project #1 went smoothly - walking those aisles paid off.  And when it was put in the mail, my mind felt free.

Within hours of finishing the first project, I was able to make significant progress on the next one.  I trimmed, I wrote, I showed samples to J.  It felt like the floodgates had opened.  Just hours before, I stood paralyzed in the stationery aisle, unable to envision any of the materials I needed.  But now I could see it.

I'll confess that some of this drives me crazy.  Mothers, perhaps more than any other category on the planet, need to be able to complete things concurrently.  If I wait until the laundry is finished to start dinner, we will all starve to death.  If I don't start the laundry until the house is clean, we'll need to move to a nudist colony.  If I don't help K learn to use a kind tone of voice until I've finished teaching B how to control her emotions... You get my point.  Very little in my world allows me to completely finish one thing before starting another.  
Maybe I've hit upon a hidden blessing in my creativity's demand for sequential completion.  That would be the completion.  As a recovering perfectionist, I have a tendency to leave some things undone.  (If it's not finished, it can't be judged imperfect.)  Often the things I am inclined to leave undone are the most important things, the things I care the very most about.  So maybe my heart and mind have conspired to train me out of this.  My brain's refusal to work on a new project until the old one is complete does ensure I finish first things first.

OK - there's the bright side.  Now, can I please have my old brain back?  I have a lot to do!

Monday, November 1, 2010


1: mode of building, construction, or organization; arrangement of parts, elements, or constituents

I learned on Sunday that allergen free incense still yields a quick headache, watery eyes and a sore throat for me in less than ten minutes (or should I say less than two hymns, which is about what I lasted?)  I also learned that I can still spend time with God in the arbor on a Sunday morning when the incense even from the narthex becomes too much.

As I sat on a bench, sipping coffee, I looked at trees in various stages of nakedness.  Some clung to their leaves, wearing coats of gold, orange and ruby.  Others had given up autumn's cloaks for the exposure of their limbs to winter.  All made visible something the trees of summer hide well - their structure, that which holds them up, holds them together and makes foliage itself possible.

In this way, trees are like us.  When we're saplings, we are all arms and legs, sprouting in every direction, with little thought to what form we will eventually take.  Like trees whose limbs shoot from them overnight, we go through our own spring amazed at all life has to offer.  My daughters have no idea whether they are sturdy oaks, long limbed pines or flowing willows.  (OK, they're unlikely to be long-limbed anything given their parentage, but you get my meaning.)  What they do know is that their job is to grow.  So they grow with abandon: trying new experiences, meeting new friends, learning new things.  The pruning that life brings they accept, sometimes with more grace than others.  (B has recently admitted that the only way she learns a lesson is the hard way - a difficult truth, but truth nonetheless.)

When spring gives way to fall, the growth slows a bit.  The flowers give way to leaves, their more sedate cousins.  And during summer, we hardly see trees for what they really are.  They're all green, all blending in to do their job - provide shade.  I think I'm in the summer of life now, much as I look forward to fall.  Because I feel like I'm all about my jobs right now - whether that's cooking, keeping our house orderly, schooling one child, raising three of them.  I blend in with all of the other women out there doing the very same things.  And I wonder how much you can see what I'm made of when I'm covered up with all of these leaves of responsibility.  Because in the summer of our lives, we're so very busy that there's little time for the glorious burst of color that fall brings, or the evidence that begins to show exactly what supports that big tall tree.

But if I don't take care during this busy summer season of my life to prune, to feed the parts that matter, to reach for the brightest light and not be satisfied with what trickles down to the undergrowth, if I don't do those things now, whatever will I look like come fall?  What structure will be left of me when I get to be me, instead of mom all the time?  When even K is off to college, what structure will hold me up?  I won't have the same day-to-day responsibilities then that I have now.  I'll theoretically have more time to be and have fewer demands on my time to do.

As I sat on that bench on Sunday, it occurred to me that I truly look forward to the autumn of my life.  I long for that riot of color, the shedding of things I don't need, the preparation for winter's rest.  But here I sit in the summer, when I should be bearing fruit or providing shade.  I don't want to wish away my time with my children or my husband.  I want to live in the moment and enjoy life right where I am.  So, like B, I'll continue to learn lessons (many the hard way) and I'll try to graciously submit to the necessary pruning so that when glimpses of my structure are seen, it will show the things that really matter - the Savior, not the sinner.