Saturday, December 31, 2011

Favorites of 2011

This is my favorite week of the whole year.  December is a blur (even when we say it won't) and Christmas is a spin of lights and calories and smiles and then we come home.  We make seventy-two trips from the car to the kitchen: suitcases, presents, leftovers, cookie tins, coats and boots; and there it all sits, in all of it's beautiful mess: hope and delight and comfort and tradition.  The opened packages of a year of work and growth and desire.

My urge is to launch into the new year: goals and resolutions (I love them!), but I have learned to stop first and unpack.  I'm really not quite ready for structure and new habits; I'd rather sit here and sip my tea, take the ornaments off the tree one by one.  I want to sort out my closets, the toys, my mind and heart before adding new.

And so this week is for letting go, for remembering, for treasuring, and for thanks.  I'll begin next week to think about a new year.  

My 2011 Favorites:

2011 was, in many ways, my very favorite year ever for our family. We moved to Cleveland in February and we love it here. We have had great fun this year exploring our new city and getting to know the neighborhood. When we learned that our house had sold we were in a bit of a lurch to find a place to rent: it was the middle of winter, and it seems that most rentals turn around in the summer. We had no clue what part of the city we wanted to live, and had to make a quick decision that at the time was full of doubts. Now I can see that the home and neighborhood we landed in is exactly the right one for us. We are so grateful.

Cleveland Faves:
Little Italy
our fabulous local library, parks and swimming pool
Friendship Mennonite Church
New friends, good neighbors and interesting people we have met in Cleveland

Favorite words:
“When I think about it, the people I respect most are people who create peace. And they are almost always people who chose one path and followed it to the end, instead of exploring every branch. They did not choose more life experiences; they deliberately chose fewer, in service to a single end. Maybe it was parenting, or feeding the hungry, or helping abused women. Maybe it was scholarship, or creating a comforting marriage. But instead of variety, they chose focus.”  
-from Veronica Mitchel Here's the original post: The Narrow Life
Favorite rhythm:
Life with littles still feels like a blur most days. Sleep is still unpredictable and not enough (though getting better). We do have two predictable, gentle rhythms that are really life-giving: after school tea time, and our Friday night Sabbath.

Favorite books:
Jayber Crow and Jane Eyre, of course. And Richard Foster's Prayer. (This was a great year for books! These three are among my all-time favorites).

Favorites in the kitchen:
The Barefoot Contessa pizza dough.

Favorite trip:
A girls weekend in Colorado
A wedding weekend in Michigan and reuniting with dear friends
Family vacation to Florida

Favorite decision:
Choosing community
Taking a break from facebook for the winter

Favorite fifteen:
This has been a bit of a breakthrough for me. (Once again- so simple) My continual struggle since having children is how to find time to myself for the work I'd like to do. Finally this year I began to pick up the brush, sit down with a pen, begin a recipe- whatever- and work furiously for the fifteen minutes that I can steal. I've discovered that I can actually accomplish quite a lot in these little bits of time, and it takes the pressure off of thinking whatever I am doing needs to be perfect. I have begun painting again by sneaking down to the basement for a few minutes after dinner- and it works!

. . . there are others, and I hope to write again about more favorites and not-so-favorites of 2011, but for now naptime is over and we are heading out on this cold dreary day for the Stone Oven. Be warm!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Noel: Birth

Every family is different and holiday traditions are unique, but I have yet to meet a family (no doubt there are some) whose Christmas does not rest most heavily on the woman.  By the middle of December, it is the woman with the wild in her eyes, on whom the sense of urgency, of preparation and anticipation rests.  (Men, it seems, handle Christmas with remarkable calm).  In December the hope of Mary falls on all women, and the very spirit of Christmas, it seems, is a feminine one- of waiting, of giving, of gathering, of home; and a desperate hope for peace and all to be well.

I have collected a few of my very favorite thoughts on Christmas this month, and without intending to they all share the theme of women.

1.  I like to pick-up a Christmas book this time of year, and I had not heard of Phyllis Tickle until this book asked to be picked up off the Christmas shelf at our library.  The short book about their holidays at The Farm In Lucy, rural Tennessee, was delightful.  I was even more delighted when I googled the author and learned about Phyllis Tickle, and listened to a sermon by her.  She is on the top of my to-read list for 2012.  (And she had seven children!?!)
And we will sleep, most of us, for close to two weeks wrapped in the pleasure of that wild disorder, knowing life, however briefly each year, as a rhythm more than as a plotted course; and at least for a little while, we will matter so much less to ourselves.  We will do these things until peace itself becomes, like the Baptizer, a kind of forerunner, a herald; and we all shall cry, "Even so, come, Lord Jesus.!"

What the Land Already Knows by Phyllis Tickle

2.  Incarnation
But this? This creating out of passion and love, the carrying, the seemingly-never-ending-waiting, the knitting-together-of-wonder-in-secret-places,  the pain, the labour, the blurred line between joy and “someone please make it stop,” the “I can’t do it” even while you’re in the doing of it, the delivery of new life in blood and hope and humanity?
This is the stuff of God.
3.  On Being blog:
mercy, she suggested, is womb-like mother love. And it is the capacity of the mother to totally give one’s self over to the need and reality and identity of child. And mutatis mutandis then, mercy is the capacity to give one’s self away for sake of neighborhood. Now none of us do that completely. But it makes a difference if the quality of social transactions have to do with the willingness to give one’s self away for the sake of the other rather than the need to always be drawing all of the resources to myself for my own well-being. 
4.  ...your daughters will prophesy  (I love Rachel Held Evans' blog.  Her list of popluar posts is a great place to start.)
Those of us who are perhaps most equipped to speak and act prophetically in response to the violence, poverty, and inequality that plague our sisters around the world are being silenced ourselves.  
5.  As I have been out shopping or running errands, I have happened to overhear several conversations of people complaining about their families and dreading their Christmas gatherings.  Although we offer wishes of peace and joy, the holidays can unearth deep-rooted family issues and layers of unforgiveness.  I thought that this short post was really meaningful, Christmas forgiveness.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Christmas brings out the lame mother in me.

Case in Point:

I am a lame decorator.  Christmas it seems requires decorating.  I can't even make our tree skirt fit:

. . . or keep ornaments on our tree.

I have good intentions and poor follow-through.  I hung our advent calendar and failed to put one thing in it.  The kids think it's a decoration.

I am lame at family devotions.  We are a week behind on our Jesse Tree.

We have a lame Elf on the Shelf.  He lost his magic long ago and the kids carry him around everywhere- and when he returns he gets stuck back on the same shelf every time.  (My kids didn't buy the magical Elf story for a minute).

he sits up there right next to Jim's cigar . .. what?

I meant to mail our Christmas letter weeks ago.  I wrote one and decided it was stupid, so I have been trying to write another but I am sitting here writing about what a lame mom I am instead.  Maybe I will try to send a New Year's card.  Just like I said I would send last year.  And every year since 2007.

And forget about a professional photo shoot with our kids in matching Christmas outfits.  This was the only photo from 2011 with everyone smiling, so this is the holiday photo I'm sending:

(don't look close at the dark circles under my eyes and ratty t-shirt.  And why is Jim wearing long sleeves at the beach?  I don't know.)

I did, however, manage to buy and wrap some thoughtful gifts, mail a package, take care of a sick child, and not be frustrated when this girl with broccoli in her teeth couldn't take a nap today but insists on sitting on my lap banging on the computer.  Maybe she can write the Christmas letter.

(Oh, and Sami and I put together a few of this cowgirl cookie mix to give.  And, here is a link to a series of paintings I did for our church for Advent).

Monday, December 19, 2011

just good

I only have a minute, but this is what is on my mind today . ..

Some good friends lost their grandfather last week.  (In fact this family is three generations of friends, their grandparents were good friends with my grandparents, our parents were good friends, and their five kids and the four kids in my family all grew up together . .. and then the eldest child married my best friend, Sally, and their cousin Jenny is has been a best friend since we were born . . . so that is a long way of explaining that the friendship between our families runs deep, I knew her grandfather and grew up receiving hugs from her grandma); and so when I read Kristen's lovely tribute  to her grandfather, I could agree with every word.  He really was that wonderful.

It reminded me of another friend; he had open heart surgery recently, and this is what his wife wrote about him the next day:

I think Nate knows the name of every staff person, cleaning lady, gurney driver, tech that has come into his how many children they have, what they are doing for Xmas, etc.... true style (this was before the surgery)...and of course he'll want to send personal 'thank yous' to each one when he gets out. You just got to love this man!!!
And once again reading this I was smiling and nodding, with tears . .. yes, this is the Nate I know.  It does not surprise me at all that he would have noticed and genuinely cared about every single person he met in the hospital.

I am writing this for myself today.  I think so much about what I should be doing with my life- if I should go back to school or be more determined about writing or should I be working part-time or . . . or or . .. what makes a life most meaningful, most significant?  How do I know how hard to push or when to let go, whether just being a mom is enough . ..? all of these questions, and then when I think about these two people . .. and how RARE is this kind of virtue . . . I realize how unimportant are my questions of doing.  I want the meaning and significance of my life to be in it's BE-ing.

I get a little hopeless sometimes and start to think- where are the GOOD people in the world today?   The world is full of people who accomplish great things- where are the people who "have never spoken a cross word," or the people who  sincerely care about people or say thank-you or the couples who have laid together each night for sixty-six years and sung love songs?  Where are the people who shine like stars?  I am thankful to have known a few of them.
Do everything without grumbling or arguing, 15 so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.”[a] Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky 16 as you hold firmly to the word of life. Phil.2:14-16

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

more like three . ..

Well when I wrote a few posts back that Jim had been home from work for the week, what I didn't say was that he was home because he lost his job.  And he wasn't home only that week- it's been more like three.

It was one of those big corporate lay-offs; pretty much Jim's whole department was cut.  We knew there was this risk in taking a job with a big company; they promised him that he was being hired on a long-term basis, but when their big project was over they just didn't get anymore work and a lot of people were let go.

There is so much grace here.  

I wanted to protect him because it's humiliating and devastating to be laid off- but truly we are not devastated and he has no reason to feel bad.  We are grateful for innumerable graces through this time- large and small- from his boss and co-workers, his parents being in at the time that it happened, my parents, our friends and our three girls who have kept us from taking life too seriously through it all.

The good news is that Jim had two good job offers, both which allow us to stay in Cleveland.  He accepted one and starts later this week.

Despite circumstances we would not have chosen, these weeks have been so rich.  I don't remember a time when we enjoyed each other and our family so much.  We have never laughed more or been so relaxed.

 Jim determined at the beginning that this would be time for me to write, and he made sure I got it.  He packed lunches, cleaned up the kitchen, spent quality time with Annie, made coffee runs; while I exclaimed fifty times a day that this is the way life is meant to be!  I am so grateful- his gift of time is the best thing he could ever give me.

We all walked to school together in the mornings and afternoons to pick Sam up.  I let the house go.  We ate dinner at four o'clock and spent long evenings with books and magazines and newspapers.  I painted.

Of course this is not reality and we cannot sustain this.  We are grateful that Jim has a job to go to this week.

Life can be unpredictable and disappointing and hard.  I realize that this was resolved so quickly and looking back will be hardly a blip on our radar.  But sometimes along the way when we least expect it God really does make us lie down in green pastures.  This is what we will remember.  I am so grateful for God's unexpected gifts.

Psalm 23:2-4
 2He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. 3He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake. 4Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

 I love this photo documentary taken by Annie:

See Josie happily coloring with Dad.
 See dad go to answer his phone.
See Josie on the table with scissors.
See Josie play with scissors.

(The truth is that the girls are in way better hands with Dad than they are with Mom.  Jim would take the scissors and then give her a six-step instructional powerpoint on the correct way to handle scissors. I would be like O, she's okay.)

Sunday, December 4, 2011

how we do weekends

Jim and I have spent years trying to find a good balance to our weekends.  Our conflict was simple, and probably common: Jim had been at work all week and was looking forward to a weekend of rest, I had been at home all week and was looking forward to having fun.  

And for all of our differences one thing we share in common is that we hate wasting time.  We both function better when we know what to expect.  And so we have learned to discuss and plan well in advance what a weekend should look like.

Lately we have found our rhythm for the weekends after we read Abraham Joshua Heschel's book, Sabbath.  It has changed the way we approach weekends.

We discovered that what Sabbath is meant to be is in fact what we both are needing by week's end which is menuah, a restfulness that is also celebration.

According to Jewish custom, Sabbath begins at sundown on Friday.  We have adopted Friday evening as the start to our Sabbath as well.  Heschel described the other six days of the week as a pilgrimage to the Sabbath; and so we prepare throughout the week- housework is done, dinner ready- and as the sun sets we light two candles (one to remember one to observe), and we both feast and rest.  

As a mom this is so helpful because it is possible to be continually working; work is never actually complete.  A Sabbath rest provides a boundary to our work.  Now is time to neglect the scattered shoes and pieces, the endless picking up.  This one night we put our feet up, the children play, we go to bed with toys still scattered.
Heschel believed that we need the Sabbath in order to survive civilization.  “Six days a week we wrestle with the world, wringing profit from the earth; on the Sabbath we especially care for the seed of eternity planted in the soul.  The world has our hands, but our soul belongs to Someone Else.”
The rest of the weekend varies; often there is work to be done or places to go on Saturdays and our Sabbath continues with church and rest on Sunday.  We have found that this intentional break at the end of the work week, an anticipated rest that is also celebration, is what our body and soul needs.  

This weekend was especially nice, I thought I would share . .. 

Our Sabbath began with leftovers (but if you light candles nobody will notice).  Jim led us in an Advent devotional which included children wandering away and being dragged back to the table fourteen times (ah well, we keep trying).

My Saturday morning started at three because Josie kept waking up and as often happens I finally couldn't get back to sleep . . . I relish, however, these mornings when I am awake a few hours before everyone.  The dark quiet and time to read and write is Sabbath to me.

I baked this Honeybun cake which my husband warns that you be sure to stock up on insulin before you eat it (It's true- way too much sugar).  

Insert Starbucks i.v. because I got up too early . . .

and we're off to find our Christmas treee!

This is when I stopped taking pictures but you can imagine one of these trees wondrously decorated and looking something like this:

or your could imagine our Christmas tree, which looks nothing like this.

After we sufficiently destroyed the house with our unpacked Christmas boxes, our friends Anna and Izaak came to visit.  We are always happy to see them.  

We took the train to the Cinema to see the Muppets.

I was actually dreading sitting through the Muppets movie because even when I was a kid something about the Muppets freaked me out.  The movie was better than I expected, but I don't think the kids really got most of it.

The weekend ended with popcorn, apples and cheese . . . because our weekends always end with a popcorn supper.  That's how we do weekends. 

(Josie is wearing batman pajamas because . .. well, nevermind).

Isn't life grand?

Friday, December 2, 2011

Happy Friday Randomness

A random picture for your Happy Friday:

This girl makes me smile a hundred times a day.
See those beautiful curls?
I cut them off.
I really didn't mean to- I just kept trimming . .. and trimming . .. and trimming
{sad sigh}

We have reached a new era in our home which is Kindergarten Fashion.  This morning Sam put on a long navy Laura Ingalls Wilder skirt with black Hello Kitty t-shirt, white tights, and tennis shoes.  It is cool in kindergarten not to match.  It's happening already.

Two new blogs I have discovered this week:

Check them out!

All of the posts this week have been brought to you by the Engineer and his week off of work in which he valiantly offered to watch the kids so I could write.  Not only did he bring me Starbucks regularly, he also painted and baked with Annie daily, did the dishes and played music loudly all day long.  He is clearly the cooler parent and we are all insisting that he not ever go back to work EVER. 

I got to write (sit at my desk and ruminate), blog daily, and flat iron my hair!  I don't have high hopes for my writing or hair, but maybe I am enjoying getting a little blog mojo back and maybe I can at least attempt to blog a little more regularly again.  

Thursday, December 1, 2011