Saturday, October 27, 2012

the roads we take

The problem with stories is they can only be told backwards.
Today is so full of today;
it's the dailiness that gets to you.
We don't usually recognize the story until it's past.

Deep Autumn every year I relive Autumn of 2008.
We had two kids, about to turn three and one.
It was an election year.

That summer we had left the church where Jim was a pastor,
moved out of the church parsonage and into an apartment.
Jim went back to engineering, we thought only temporary.
The apartment was small, no yard, in a small town I didn't want to be in, everything was temporary, very much a place of waiting, trying to figure out what in the world we were going to do next.

But in the meantime, in the year and a half we lived there, the apartment was my safe place;
and more than that.
I loved that apartment.
It was a new construction and everything about it felt fresh, just like our life, and it was wonderfully simple, just like life at the time.  I embraced our simplicity, our emptiness, our fresh start.

Jim was re-learning how to be an engineer.
I was shedding skin, stretching courage.
I had been a mom for a while, but the apartment is where I found my confidence and delight in mothering, where I discovered the high calling of creating a home, regardless of the house you live in.
It was where I first began to write for pay, where I learned to lean into liberty and grace, where I found my girlfriends.  It was where I grieved and fought and where I buried my imposter.
It was the in-between place through which love reached,
I came up laughing.

But I didn't really see all that at the time.
Because most days, it was just life with small children in a small apartment.
Only later did I label it Chrysalis.

And isn't every season of life some stage of metamorphosis,
some part of the Story,
character~plot~bad guys closing in . . .
We can't really identify where we are at in the story, but when we realize that it is a story we are telling,  things mean more.
It isn't just oatmeal you are stirring every morning at seven,
it is nutrition and childhood and ritual and a subplot of several stories.
These bowls piled in the sink are the daily labor, the slow unfolding of story that will one day be told, with a sigh,
ages and ages hence . . .

Even the things we strain against become weightier, meaningful . .. beautiful . .. when set against the backdrop of story.

I once believed we would come upon those two roads in the yellow wood only once,
and it was profoundly crucial that we choose the right one.
I think now that we come upon a fork in the road daily, hourly,
and we have the opportunity every day, moment by moment, which one we will choose,
to embrace the one less traveled by,
and to see the journey fresh,
 leaves no step has trodden black . . .

Saturday Soup

This week we celebrated with seven candles and a new fish named Gilda.  We are so proud of our sweet Sami Rosa. She has a kind heart and a sweet spirit, she is smart and more responsible than a seven year old probably should be (if anything happens to me I have no worries, Sam's in charge).

Next week it's five candles for our charming and sassy, cuddly and dramatic and joyful Anna Joy.  We are indeed so unspeakably blessed and humbly grateful for the amazing little lives that have been entrusted to us.

So many good things in Blogland this week, I couldn't wait to share . . .

Two Different Spirits in the Church Or, Should We Abandon Those Who Disagree With Us? by Donald Miller
Being right feels good. But let’s not fall for it. If we do, we are just like every other fighting faction in humanity. We are no different.

18 Signs You Move A Lot at Small Notebook.  I do all of these!

Homosexuality and the Church: Finding a Third Way by Greg Boyd. 
For instance, there are thousands of verses in the Bible denouncing idolatry (which would include greed, gluttony and anything else that you go to for worth and security other than God). By contrast, there are three verses in the Old Testament and three verses in the New that mention same-gender sexual activity. Yet, people guilty of the former sins are embraced without question in our churches, while people guilty of the latter sins tend to be excluded. What’s wrong with this picture?

One of the most fascinating aspects of Jesus’ ministry is that when people tried to force him to weigh in on either-or issues, he always managed to point out a third alternative —  the kingdom alternative. 

theology of the kitchen table:  I do my best theology around a table.
I invite people over and give them a place to sit. I pour wine. I offer them homemade bread. I use my hands. I whisper again and again the words of Christ: For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them, and I point out that He’s here, sitting with us, and that He is made known somewhere between the broken bread, the poured wine, the things debated with kindness and charity.

Last week at church we sang, "kindle in us love's compassion so that everyone may see in our fellowship the promise of a new humanity."  It brought tears to my eyes to think that this- THIS!- our little fellowship of believers, Christ's church, is God's plan for a new humanity.  It was never about politics.  

(If only we as believers would apply as much scrutiny to ourselves as we do to anyone who votes different than us.)
Enjoy a cozy Saturday, friends! 

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Ten Reasons Why Romney and Obama Might Want to Come for Dinner

Dear Sirs,

With the election only days away, I thought you may be interested to know that even after following your months of campaigning and watching you debate three times, I am yet undecided as to how I will vote on Tuesday.  Honestly, it's not you.  It's me.  You don't even want to see me try to decide what to have for lunch.

I would like to invite you for dinner.  Here are some reasons why I think you might like to have dinner with our family in Cleveland, Ohio:

1. I am an undecided female voter in Ohio.
2. I am a middle-class, stay-at-home mom. I love Jesus. And, we homeschool- not sure how you feel about that.
3. My chili won the Friendship Mennonite chili cook-off last month (it may have been a charity vote, Mennonites are like that. But still).
4. I am married to a civil engineer and my dad is a small business owner.  Jim both lost and found a job within Obama's term.
5. My kids are darling and not at all loud or temperamental.
6. Dick Cheney once hoped to meet them.
6. I come from a long line of democrats, republicans, pacifists, soldiers, feminists, farmers, and the Amish, which makes me completely confused unbiased.
7. With the exception of that one time in High School when I snuck out with my friends and cruised the boulevard and threw a pop can out the window, and then came home and confessed the whole thing to my parents, I have a very clean record.
8.  Also, once in college I drank half of a wine cooler when I was underage. My parents still don't know.
9. I promise to write about your visit on this blog, currently with dozens of followers.
10. It is very likely that once I meet you, I will find you great and amazing and be loyal to you forever.  I tend to do that.

Please consider joining us for dinner this weekend.  We are having soup.

Jessica E. Stock

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Sunday Soup

I love Autumn.  Were it not for impending Winter, it would be my favorite season.  

Fall means it's time for soup.  I have been making soup daily, so thought I'd share a few of our favorites.

We loved this moroccan stew packed with lots of veggies and a great flavor. 

Slow Cooker Black Bean Soup

 Sometimes you just need a good, basic chicken noodle soup, this recipe from Smitten Kitchen 
is the best.

Sunday after church never fails to be the hardest meal to pull off.  We are all hungry after church, but to have something ready when we come in the door means that I need to have a plan and prepare ahead of time.  I've found a few recipes that come together pretty quickly (because we are always late for church!) and can cook in a low oven for a few hours.  Pioneer Woman's Beef Stew is a good one.

Finally, did you know that you can cook dinner in a pumpkin?  My mom made this for a family Halloween Party and it was great.  Here is the recipe:
1 1/2-2 lb ground beef, fried with onion and garlic
3 c. shredded cabbage (cook in microwave or skillet to soften)
2 cans green beans (drained)
1-11/4 cup Quick Rice (raw)
Ital Seasoning, 1/2-1 tsp salt, pepper, 1-2 tsp sugar
4 cups Tomato Juice
Mix and put in large pumpkin that has been well scooped-out.  Cover top with foil and put on baking pan to catch drips.  Bake @ 350 about 3 hrs. (or longer).

I'm not sure why I am suddenly so chatty on the blog.  I guess that letting go of the novel for now has left me with a little more space to give here.  Also, it's about courage.  Writing is easy but hitting publish is another story.  I have been trying to take Eleanor Roosevelt's advice and "do one thing every day that scares you."  For now, that means blogging regularly.

About Sunday Soup . . . is the name I've finally found for weekend links and miscellany.  Knowing myself, this post will fall anywhere between Friday and Sunday, (give or take a week- heh), and the theme will be Soup . . . as in, whatever I have found from the week to throw into the soup . . . not always recipes for soup, I promise.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Saturday: Stock School and a Book

School by now feels normal, it is just what we do.  

I have begun to receive some sass from the first grader, but for this one, that is a good thing.  She is my pleaser.  When I correct her on just about anything she feels like she has failed.  This is one of the reasons we believe that homeschool is right for us: Sami is beginning to sass. I can see her gaining confidence and growing into her spunk, which, somehow, public school just seemed to deflate.

And just in case I paint our homeschool days as too rosy, occasionally there is this . . .

don't be jealous of our 20" screen
Because there are days when I need to escape for a little bit.  Especially when I have a can't-put-down book to escape into.  

I picked-up The Forgotten Garden at a yard sale this summer, given rave reviews by the seller.  This was the perfect escape read.  A little bit Gothic but not too dark, entertaining but not predictable.  And it takes place in England so they are always sipping tea and exploring old cottages and mysterious gardens.  Loved it.

 In the past few weeks we got to spend a golden day at a fall festival with our co-op, a drizzly Sunday at the Museum to see Egyptian artifacts, and a few days in the country.  And we have eaten endless bowls of soup.  Love Autumn.  Recipes coming soon.

Friday, October 19, 2012

why our children need our stories

Martin Grelle
My dad was the Lone Ranger.  He rode bareback and roped cattle and explored the Wild West.  This we believed.  
My dad has a knack for storytelling, and we reveled in it.  To my brothers and I, our dad growing up on a dusty, struggling farm in Oklahoma wasn't a story of poverty or hardship, but rather an epic adventure, a real-life Western thriller complete with cowboys and Indians and our dad as the hero (there was the embellishment factor).  
  We got to know my grandparents as young and courageous, and to see my dad and aunts and uncle as youthful and ornery.  My dad described going to school in a one-room schoolhouse (actually true), hunting mountain lion (or maybe it was rabbits), practical jokes and sibling rivalry that kept us laughing and begging every night at bedtime for just “one more story.” Later he lived in Pakistan working with farmers, and these years, too, were material for endless stories.
There were sad stories.  He described to us difficult years when drought or floods affected the farm, the hard work farming required, and how my grandparents sacrificed to make ends meet. But in stories, tragedy is not impending doom but rather problems to be solved, adversity to be overcome. Struggle is what makes a great story.
Without realizing it, telling stories was a way for my dad to pass on to us some secrets to living life, and along with that came an abiding belief that living is a grand adventure.
    Our children need our stories. They want to know who their parents are, who they were before children, and they want to believe that their mom or dad really is a hero, capable of roping cattle and wrestling mountain lions; or of gaining confidence through difficulty, creativity in hardship, strength through trials.  
Even if our own childhood, with the best imagination, cannot be translated into one of adventure, we all have stories needing to be told.  Our own childhood joys and treasures, the things we dreamed, the things we grieved.  Everyone lives through difficulty and there is no shame- rather it is a gift- that we tell them to our children, through the lens of wisdom gained.  

  By telling stories we pass on courage. And we give our children a broader perspective, to see the scope of life as story, an adventure to be lived.

(This is part four of a series on Story)

(portions originally published in The Budget)

Wednesday, October 17, 2012


In the past five-ish years of engaging in social media and navigating this strange new land, the thing that has caused me the most forehead-slapping, wanting to TYPE IN ALL CAPS frustration, is the lack of empathy I observe between people.

I want to believe that this is so glaring, so alarming, on facebook due to the communication gap.  Brevity does little to open up understanding.

But on my gloomier days I fear we are becoming an unsympathetic culture.

And I don't know but I wonder if our loss of basic emotional understanding of one another has a lot to do with our loss of stories. People are much more than the very little I know about them.  People are made up of stories.  There are years of history attached to that one fact I am judging, and generations of stories before that.

It is much easier to know people detached from their stories.  I do it all the time; I stay up late to watch the Presidential debates, but when Jim is watching the stories of the candidates on Frontline, I say no thanks I am going to bed. Isn't it much more accurate to vote based on a person's story, than on their ability to argue?

(Maybe this is why of all social media, I still prefer blogs.  There are stories here).

Of any parenting practice, I have found one of the most generous, most meaningful acts I can do is to kneel when my children are speaking to me. I don't always remember.  But when I do, their eyes open wider.  Their words become firmer.  They are soothed and satisfied, because they have been heard.  Understood. It makes all the difference.  Almost always, listening changes my response as well.

(This is part three on living with Story)

Monday, October 15, 2012


Once a long time ago (last week, which is a generation in blog years), I began a series on Story.Why I live on stories, why they nourish and heal me, why I believe that one of the world's deepest needs is Story . .. not that the world is lacking in Stories but rather in ability to hear, to walk with and sit with and to live among stories.

I am handed a note in church.  It reads,

I love you mom 
but I am running away anyway.  
Tilly the cat.

As I type this my daughters are in their secret hideout.  Dozens of stuffed animals are gathered around, and there is a lot of whispering and dramatic outbursts and soon there will be arguing and tears too.  Because stories don't always work out the way we think they should.

My children speak a language of stories.  Their little lives consist almost entirely of stories.  I am amazed at the scope and detail of their memories, and I think the way they are able to tell me exactly what we did at their cousin's birthday party three years ago is because every event is woven so magically into an unfolding story in their minds.

It is a very small leap for their minds to go from their real-life stories into make believe.  Their lives are spent in story.

We all were born storytellers, born into stories, but when do we lose our language?  We soon learn to speak in facts known as True and story therefore is . . . well, Untrue?

But it is stories which facts float upon, stories which give meaning to our data and information, we walk among stories and live within story.  We cannot escape stories or exist apart from story.

The universe is made of stories, not atoms
-Muriel Rukeyser

It is one of the greater triumphs of Lucifer that he has managed to make Christians (Christians!) believe that a story is a lie, that a myth should be outgrown by puberty, that to act in a play is inconsistent with true religion. 
For the past several generations we’ve forgotten what psychologists call our archaic understanding, a willingness to know things in their deepest, most mythic sense. We’re all born with archaic understanding, and I’d guess that the loss of it goes directly along with the loss of ourselves as creators.  
Madeleine L'Engle, Walking on Water
We are studying the very beginnings- the first people and first kingdoms and now the very first known written language.  It is interesting that some of the earliest writing is believed to be
writing figurative, symbolic, and phonetic all at once, in the same text, the same phrase, I would almost say in the same word. (wikipedia)

Wednesday, October 10, 2012


A couple weeks ago in an act of martyrdom or melodrama or passive-aggressive maturity (clearly), I tore down the pages of storyline that have been staring at me from behind this computer for months.

Anne Lamott says, nobody cares if you do your art.  It is better for everyone if you don't.

And it's true.

It's nobody's fault, it's just the way that it is.

Nobody really cares if you finish that degree or painting or next chapter.  It's when we're out of eggs.  When last year's clothes don't fit, or nobody can find a clean sippy cup, or I forget to buy diapers.

And maybe this is how it should be.
Maybe I am just a mom.
There is no shame in being just a mom- it is the most important job in the world, worthy of being fully embraced.  I love being a mom, heart and soul,
and if there is any art that this gift of motherhood requires is the art of letting go.

So I choose, again, and be just a mom, singly, heartily.
It is the one thing I most want to do well.
At the end of the day it is the only job that matters.
Does the world really need another book on it's dusty shelves?
Of course not; what it needs are healthy families and happy children and kind neighbors.  The world needs whole grain bread and applesauce and someone to sweep under the table.  The world needs bedtime stories and open arms.
(there is no note of sarcasm here)
The world does not need one more striving, tired, frustrated woman.

Someone smirked once and said with the slightest tilt of his brain that no one should write unless they cannot not do the thing.  And since that day these words ring through fear or insecurity and because I cannot not do the dishes- I just can't.  I cannot not pick up the house at the end of the day, or not sleep with my babies when they need me, or not teach my own, or not nourish them with good food.  And because I cannot not do these things, it turns out, the one thing I can not do, however regretfully, is write.

And so I wake early to bake whole wheat muffins and slice fruit and pour milk into cups, a bit more heartily now.  And even as I am wiping eggs from the stovetop words are clumping in my brain, a story forming when I part the curtains and look out at a rainy early morning, watching the lights turn on in windows across the city and thinking about the woman weary in apartment nine sipping tepid tea from a chipped mug, the single blue light above the stove in her kitchen and the way she traces this same path to rinse her glass and scrape the crusts of her toast into the trash every morning, I wonder who will tell her story.

And this, I find, is one more thing I cannot not do.  I cannot not live with stories.

Maybe I will not ever write them; I can make peace with that.  But I will live story and walk with stories, and sit with stories, and open my arms wide to receive the world's stories, and I will fall into bed with stories and wake in the night praying stories.  I will read my children stories and I will give them words to tell their story and let them find themselves in story.

Because what the word does need now, is Story.

(writing a little more in the days to come on Story).

Saturday, October 6, 2012

blessed disconnect

It doesn't matter; I am not better than you or judging you or writing this out of some kind of amish-y folksy wisdom . .. but being away last weekend made me think again about this subject that I seem to be fixated on, and that I want to blog about it . ..

I don't have a smart phone, and I have no intention of getting one anytime soon.

why I love my non-smart phone
Of course the added expense is the most practical reason we have stuck with our very basic phone plan.  But there is more to it than that.

For one, being fully present in the small world of young children is already difficult, now internet Sirens call to us continually.  This challenge to be present, I believe, is what will define our generation as parents.

I am also easily distracted, a dreamer, tempted already to float above reality, and the internet obviously feeds that. I have no doubt there are people with greater self-control than me who can use their smart phones only for what they need, and then put them away.  But I don't trust myself.

For now my computer stays upstairs on my desk, away from the normal traffic of our home, so that I must make an effort to run up and check my email or whatever, and not get sucked in.

But more than that, I like being out of reach occasionally.

When we were away last weekend I realized again the gift of being fully present, disconnected from anything that is not in-the-flesh.  It re-sets me, I regain consciousness of the present moment, the beautiful mundane.  I have time to think about life through an uncluttered lens, and the world of the internet becomes less urgent, put back in its proper place.  When we visit my parents' their internet is so slow that I don't even bother checking email, and by the time we come home I no longer want to.

I like being able to say, Sorry, we were out of town so I didn't get your message.  I don't want to be responsible to receive and respond to information at every moment of every day.

It takes me a few days to re-enter.  I enjoy the quiet slowness of life, regaining attention to quieter things.  For a while after we come home I have no interest in what is happening on any blog or facebook, and when I do begin again to peek into those spaces, it is with a firm grasp on things real and present.

Wrestling with this balance is, of course, my own issue, which is why I don't give a second thought to anyone else's media choices.  But the weekend was a refreshing reminder of why I will continue to be regularly, fully, blessedly, disconnected.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Stock School, in which the ipad wins

Autumn in Cleveland Metroparks

School Re-cap

It was yet another week out of the norm and so I am thinking maybe this is the normal?  Embrace it.

Last week ended with a trip to the metroparks for a free homeschool class and then we were off to a funeral and weekend with family.  We extended the trip to visit my parents while Jim worked, and spent a day at Nickajack Farms'  Fall Festival.  We got back Tuesday evening, tired, and needing to catch-up from two days off of school.

Like I said, we all were tired . . . and grumpy.  After a really bad day on Wednesday, I made some changes and our last two days were much better.

Divide and Conquer

I realized part of the little ones acting out during school was needing more one-on-one time with only me.  I have been so focused on the material that I've not come up with a specific preschool curriculum.  It is really simple to adapt Sami's first grade material to preschool, I just need time alone with Annie to help her with it.  And then time alone with the first grader is 1,000x more productive.

Technology Wins

So, I gave in to technology this week, and I may always.

We met together for our morning meeting: devotions, poetry, date and weather, current event and geography.  Then, Sami and Josie can either play games on the ipad or watch pbs.  I work with Sami next and then Annie can have her technology time.  The obvious flaw here is that Josie could potentially spend the entire morning glued to a screen.  Yes, she is too young to be watching so much- or any (and she loves the ipad).  On the days I am prepared enough it helps to offer her something to glue, cut, or otherwise destroy.

I am learning that I will have days when all we can handle is the very minimum- and that's okay.  There are also days when for whatever reason everything falls into place with room to spare, and I try to capitalize on those days- this is when we do art projects or bake or double-up on schoolwork.

Audio books are a lifesaver for the bare-bones days.  Our library offers individual players which are great.  This week the girls loved playing in the afternoons while listening to Junie B. Jones.

Finally by today we were rested and caught-up on schoolwork, and spent the afternoon making this pumpkin pie play-dough.  It really is one of the best dough recipes, and smells so great.  The girls loved this.

Seven Daily Rungs

I tend to be anxious over how we live our days- are we fitting it all in?  Are we doing enough?  I remembered this post by Ann Voskamp on The Seven Daily Rungs, and went back to re-read it.  Great advice.  I need to remember this!

Nice article in the Atlantic this month, The Homeschool Diaries

"I have a wonderful and terrible truth for you.  We become like the object of our focus.  If our focus is on our needs, we become more needy.  If our focus is on the harm others have done to us, we become harmful and angry people.  If our focus is on material things, we become grasping and greedy.  And, praise God, if our focus is on Christ, we become more and more like Him." -Beth Moore in Living Free.  Really enjoying doing this study with our ladies' Bible Study at church.
Other . . .

The cream I mentioned in my last post is called Bee Balm Face Cream, and it is an all-natural product made by a local company- Morning Song Gardens.  I bought their face soap and lotion this summer at a farmers market, and have become a huge fan.  I may do most of my Christmas shopping here!

Did you happen to hear the Stephen Colbert interview on Fresh Air on Thursday?  Fabulous.  The first political anything this year that was actually interesting, thoughtful, or believable.

However while I was upstairs cleaning and listening to npr, this was happening downstairs:

oh, love 'em . . .

Wednesday, October 3, 2012


Tonight we are home again in Cleveland after being away for yet another funeral . .. another great grandparent- Jim's grandmother- passed away last week.  We cannot learn of another soul's passing without a gasp, though we watch it approach for years. Death always will be the great shock of the universe, it startles and grieves no matter what.  Even when she's ninety six.  Even then there are tears, and this need to be together, to hold onto the fragile flesh of one another.

It was the third funeral in one summer and early autumn of my young children's lives.  Each has come with talk of death, and delicate answers to questions we know only darkly.  And yet for my children who are yet blessedly removed from great sadness, from death's terrible roar, death to their fresh mind is related to dark chocolate cake and casseroles, cousins, dressing up in wedding clothes.  They have only just begun, so far from old. All weekend they shone like the green grass around gravestones.  They wish for nothing more than an endless sunny afternoon to drink grape soda and giggle with cousins and skip hand-in-hand through the cemetery.  We bury ashes, our children dance prophesy.

At the hotel I examine my age spot in the mirror.  I bought cream this summer meant to make it disappear like magic, and I think it is working a little.  There is also the issue of a few grays, becoming more like a lot, I probably should begin coloring my hair soon but, sigh, I hate to start.

I am thinking about my grandmother's hands.  Dotted with age, blue skin thin like lilies.  I am gradually growing into her skin now, I realize, death beginning it's slow claim on me, too, now only traces, like the fingerprints I scrub from our walls.

Thirty-five, the age of in-between- one hand stretched to the newly born and a hand to the recently departed, nearing the middle of this life cycle, Lord willing . ..

I think about death all the time- does everyone? -of all this death and dying, all I can conclude or figure out about death and it's sorrow- is not so much it's tragedy at the end of long living, more it's tragedy of living's slow dying.

It is death that begins it's crawl over our spirits, when we are too young to notice: first just a streak or spot of grey appearing.  Tears unwasted will start to pool into pockets beneath the skin, disappointment leaves it's spots, heartbreak will harden the arteries eventually, the slightest streaks of apathy.

My children take off their shoes and is this me- already- plucking blackberries?

Life ages us, it can't be stopped- we are not so eternal as we once were.  How does one escape death- if only by her spirit?  I chew my kids' vitamins and apply the only cream I know- foolishness and joy.

“Earth's crammed with heaven, 
And every common bush afire with God, 

But only he who sees takes off his shoes;

The rest sit round and pluck blackberries.” 

― Elizabeth Barrett Browning

We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf. 

Hebrews 6:19-20