Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Floored by Grace

Mr. John lives across the street, and my sons love watching him come and go in his beautiful blue Ford Mustang. You see, Mr. John happens to be a Mustang enthusiast, which Caleb thinks is cool, as well as a John Deere collector, which Caleb thinks is even cooler.  Every so often, I hear a knock on my back door, and Mr. John passes on a different tractor that he thinks Caleb will enjoy.  Mr. John is a rock star in our house.  Then Sunday night, Mr. John showed up with this.  

I know.  Pretty cool, huh?  It's a reproduction of a 1930s pedal car.  Mr. John said that he was born in 1929, right before the Great Depression.  There had never been money for toys.  Fast-forward 80 years, and Mr. John has quite the collection. I'm humbled that he takes the time to tell his stories to my sons and even shares with our sons...
who are keeping our local university safe, one sidewalk at a time.

Love the details

This floored me when I saw it.  I don't know if this is by chance or a sweet gesture on John's part, but Caleb's name is embossed into the dash of his new wheels.  Unreal.

So I imagine this is how we will be spending every sunny day this winter... and this spring... and this summer.  And maybe Mr. John will come along with us one of these days for a stroll.  At least we know we'll be safe with a patrol car in our midst.  Humbled and grateful for this grace.  

Monday, February 27, 2012

What have we done?

My little boy has trouble sleeping.  Often he'll wake up after only 20-30 minutes of good rest.  At that point, he's irate... and rightly so.  I'm not exactly happy when I wake up too early.  When I got him up yesterday, I realized that we'd created a monster.  A West Wing monster.

When I was pregnant with Ben, I would fall asleep on the couch watching West Wing.  When I was in labor, Teacher Man and I would watch West Wing to distract ourselves in between walks around the neighborhood.  When I was nursing at 2 a.m., I watched episodes of West Wing to keep myself awake (Sometimes this worked.).  You want to know what happens when you do that?

After getting up from his nap, Ben was inconsolable yesterday until... Yep, we turned on West Wing.  The kid just heard that music for the roll-up, and he was fine.  Started sucking his thumb.  Cuddling with blankie.  And watching his favorite show.  It was like flipping a switch.  From screaming and tears to complete calm.  Unbelievable.

Maybe we need to get him the soundtrack for his night night music.

(Side note: Teacher Man and I fell in love with the intelligent writing of this show and the "insider's look" into the way government works.  We're gonna have to break Ben of his addiction before he learns to talk much more since not all of the language is well chosen.  However, the vast majority contains no violence or inappropriate behavior. Just thought I'd give you a heads up.)

Thursday, February 23, 2012

To School or Not to School

No fewer than three times each week someone asks me about the educational choices we are going to make for our children.  "Are you going to homeschool then?"  "Have you decided?"  "Are they going to school with your husband?"  "Since you taught at a private school, are you going to send Caleb there for kindergarten?"  "Have you guys made a decision about preschool?"  Oh my.  I had no idea having a three year old would raise all these questions.

For the record, I don't mind the questions.  In fact, it's kind of nice to have one more opportunity to talk through the choices with other loving parents.  Also, I need to get something else on the record.  I was homeschooled... for ten years.  From third grade to graduation.  Homeschooling opened doors for me and gave me learning experiences that would have been impossible in a traditional school setting.  I will be forever grateful to my parents, especially my mother, for the ten years that they invested full-time in my education and character.  Also, I don't think I'm unsocialized; but you'll have to ask my friends.  Unsocialized people are always the last ones to realize it. Teacher Man tells me I'm fairly normal, but I think he's a little biased.

So here's where we're at:

Caleb is starting to read, sounding out words everywhere.  He can count, do basic addition, and recognize all his shapes and colors. And he's three.  He is intensely curious about the world and loves interacting with kids his age as well as adults.  His best friend is my mother.  I'm pretty sure he ranks pretty high on her list too so that works out well. Anyways...

I would love to support our local schools; in fact, I do.  I kiss my husband and send him off to a ten-hour day of teaching five days each week.  In fact, tonight he went back to put in that eleventh hour.  Having him in the schools though, I also hear the good, the bad, and the ugly of what's happening.  This definitely has its benefits and drawbacks.  Since both Teacher Man and I are teachers (duh.), we also have a firm grasp of what current academic expectations are.  Caleb meets most of the academic standards for kindergarten already.  Do I send him to school so he can drive his teacher crazy?  Hmmmm...

Teaching private school was a great experience for me.  I had great students, many of whom loved Jesus with a passion that inspired me.  We prayed together, studied things in light of Scripture, and had room for lots of extras since behavior management was minimal.  The hardest part for me as a teacher was not being able to meet all the individual needs of my students... so many of them, one of me.

So homeschooling... I love curriculum.  I love reading.  I love teaching and discovering things.  I love my kids.  But the responsibility of their education on top of having them home all the time is intimidating, even as a teacher.  Right now I'm knee-deep in resources, trying to figure out what homeschooling would look like for me: Educating the Whole-Hearted Child, The Charlotte Mason Companion, The Well-Trained Mind... and the list goes on and on.

Some of these writers inspire me to lifelong learning.  Others fill me with vision for a rich future for my family, educating with or without a traditional school.  Mostly, I'm just intimidated... because I know that homeschooling parents have an enormous influence over their children's personalities, character, and future no matter what philosophy or method they follow.  Every homeschool graduate I know is an intense reflection of their parents.  I'm just not just the world is ready for me... intensified.  Those who have seen me in the midst of a hormonal cleaning frenzy know what I'm talking about.  It's frightening.

I want my children to be more like Christ... not me.  This takes me exactly back to where I started.  There is no perfect education because there is no such thing as a perfect teacher besides The Teacher.  Knowing my children as I do, I'm also keenly aware that we're not working with perfect raw material either.  So I guess I'll continue reading, praying, and studying, starting with God's Word.  Sitting at the feet of my Savior.  Praying for the renewing of my own mind.  For the transformation of my heart.  For wisdom.  And for the eyes to see God's grace in each day and to pass that grace along to my children.

And if you're one of the amazing people that are in our daily life, keep asking.  Keep challenging me to think through my choices for my children.  And thanks for caring.  Each one of you is an important support as we raise our sons.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Fight to Write

Every day I come up with issues or funny things that I would love to record or think out on my blog, but I just can't do it.  If you have children, you understand this.  There are so many moment-by-moment things calling (sometimes screaming) for my attention.  Sitting down to write is a fight, even with myself.  After answering "why" questions all day long, sometimes I just don't want to think anymore.  I just want to sit.  And crochet.  And listen to something funny.  And eat chocolate.  And shower.  Sometimes showering just takes too much energy though.  Please tell me someone else understand this.

But the days that I fight for it, the days that I actually sit down and write are the best days.  When that issue nagging me gets put in print so all my thoughts are a visible reality, it's a huge relief and a giant step in my processing.  The days that I sit right down and record the ridiculous things my 3 year old says are so sweet as I know others are reading and laughing at the craziness in my home as well.

Even as I finish typing this, I hear Benjamin rousing himself an hour too early.  I hear the dryer singing its "I'm done!" song.  I'm sitting next to a dirty high chair that is waiting for me to get motivated enough to clean it.  I'm mentally making myself stop. Think. Write.  Because when I do this, I'm a better mom.  A better wife.  A better follower of Christ.  Because a life without reflection is doomed to repetition.  A life without research and intentional decisions gets caught in the current of culture.

So maybe the fight to write is one of the most important battles I will enter... because it reminds me for Whom I fight and where the battle really is.  Something I need to remember as I raise my little warriors.

Friday, February 17, 2012

The Sound of Music

I now completely understand how families seventy years ago would gather around the radio just to listen together.  When it's on, my children won't leave the room.  There's something so magnetically attractive about music, about a good story, about radio surprising you with the next song.

 This radio/record player came to live at our home a couple weeks ago, transplanted from my grandpa's farm house to our little cottage in the city.

And Ben has found a new friend.

He will stand and listen and bounce along to the music.  His love for rhythm and sound brings us all in the room to watch.  And we listen and giggle along with him.

It's these little moments that make each day just a bit sweeter, and my sweet boys make every day momentous.

My Baby

This looks good.


Glad Daddy didn't actually want his apple.

I'll do it myself, Daddy!

My baby isn't much of a baby anymore, but Toddler Ben just doesn't have the same ring so Baby Ben it is.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Escaping Perfect

Sometimes I read to escape.  Other times I watch T.V. to escape.  There are even days I get so desperate that I clean my house to escape. And my life's not bad.  Not at all.  Married to an amazing man of God.  Mother to two healthy boys.  Living in a safe, warm house.  Eating good food.  Sleeping in a cozy bed.  Wearing untattered clothes... except for my socks.  I'm pretty sure I don't have a pair left without holes in them.

All that said, I have every reason to be contented and fulfilled; yet there is something about the enormity of my daily decisions that scares me, overwhelms me really.  How the way I spend my days now has a profound impact on the lives of my children, my husband, my friends, my neighbors, my community...for good or for evil.  How God has given us a massive task: Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel.  And He asks for my complete trust and total obedience in response.  The perfectionist in me can't begin to grapple with all this.

I guess this is the point in my life where I need to accept less than perfect so I can give more than nothing.  If you've never been a perfectionist, that last line may not make sense; but for all of us on the inside, you know what I mean.  Not starting something you know you can't finish well.  Not trying because you're not sure you can do it perfectly.  So I do nothing and use any means necessary to escape doing the right thing because I know I'll never do it right enough.  I mean, all our good works are like filthy rags, right?

I've been reading the book of James and once again have been reminded that though my salvation is completely through the grace of God and through no works of my own (Ephesians 2:8-9) my faith is not effective unless it is accompanied by works.  My love for Jesus is not real to my children unless they hear me speak words of patience and love (even if it is tough love) in all circumstances.  My passion for missions isn't expressed by a quarterly check but daily through my prayers for those on the mission field and those within my mission field (even those next door). My job is not just to keep this house clean and feed my family but to surrender every moment, every action to God as an act of worship, however feeble that offering might be.  Sure, I can keep going through the motions, doing all the "right things" while being bound from more by fear of failure.  But I don't want to do that anymore.

Maybe, just maybe, as I surrender to living out of love, the fear of failing in my spheres of influence will fade.  As I give up on being the perfect wife, I'll find more ways to love my husband well, as he needs to be loved.  As I release myself from the burden of needing to raise perfect children, I'll serve and encourage my children to walk in the Light, no matter how crazy that walk might look to this world. As I allow myself to be changed from within... controlled by the King, perhaps my friends and neighbors will have the rare opportunity to glimpse less of me and more of Jesus.  Less of me, the perfectionist.  More of Jesus, the perfect Lover of my soul.

Pray for me, friends.  I know this is a journey taken one step at a time.  One grace moment after another lifted up as an act of worship through thanksgiving.  And so I continue...

126. A friend calling for carpet cleaner.  Joining hands in the nitty gritty of life.
127. A new cozy sweater.
128. Feeling beautiful... in a dressing room.
129. Twirling.  A rare opportunity for me in a house of boys.
130. Soft plaid flannel.  Love hugging a man in flannel.
131. Snuggling as we read about Elmer the elephant.
132. Hearing "Mama" from my baby, over and over again.
133. Squares of chocolate... dark chocolate.
134. A jealous baby... a good reminder that there's more than enough love to go around.
135. Daddy washing my dishes tonight.
136. Mom snuggling my baby.
137. Babies learning to crawl and walk down the rows of library shelves during our regular Wednesday morning invasion.
138. My big boy demonstrates patience, waiting for a reward.  Life is his classroom.
139. A new friend who listens and shares and keeps me grounded.
140. Playing Guess Who? for the thousandth time.
141. My little boys LOVE for music.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

How love has changed.

When we were first married, I thought it was my job to maintain high expectations.  Obviously, I took all my cues on what those expectations should be from culture.  Clearly, the movies I had watched and the books I had read had realistic ideas about how a couple should live, especially in that idyllic first year of marriage. Oh my.

I'm pretty sure our first Valentine's Day was crazy, not just because it was our first but also because we had just found out we were going to be parents.  The panic of the moment put brakes on my "everything must be perfect" approach to our first year of marriage.  Thank goodness.

Fast-forward four years to yesterday.  I didn't obsess about making the day perfect.  I didn't even worry about making Valentine's Day romantic.  I just wanted to love well.  Loving Teacher Man as he would be loved best.  He came home after a long day of working, 10 hours of on-your-feet teaching, thinking, working.  While the following wouldn't make every man happy, I knew what would make him happy.

I bathed the kids.  He chilled.
I did the dishes.  He read stories with Caleb.

I cleaned the kitchen.  He worked on fixing a computer.

I picked up the house.  He looked for good deals on computer parts.

And as we did this, we talked.  We laughed.  And we loved each other well.

It wasn't candy or roses.  It was love.  And it was what he needed, which was what we needed.  Happy Valentine's Day.

Friday, February 10, 2012

It's my birthday...

It's my birthday, and I'll blog if I want to.  
Or maybe we'll just play another round of Monopoly on Teacher Man's tablet.  

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Recovering angry mom.

You know those moms that yell at their kids?  The ones that you watch in the grocery store and wonder what they are thinking?  True confession: I think I could easily become one.

No, I didn't yell at my children in Aldi today.  Nope. I didn't even snap in the bookstore when my 3 year old kept wiggling away from me, but then we got home.  I was tired.  They were in need of exercise.  I was hurried. They were hungry.  Ben is teething.  Caleb is OCD.  All these things built up to create my own little version of the A-bomb.  And I lost it.

While trying to keep Ben from crying (which is super hard these days), I asked Caleb to go to the bathroom.  He denied needing to go, but every mom recognizes the potty dance, especially the cross-legged version.  It drives me crazy that he lies to me.  CRAZY.  I got up to help him on the potty, trying to entertain Ben at the same time when it happened.  Caleb decided it would be hilarious to run away from me.  Snap.  Ben starts crying because he doesn't want to be put down.  Caleb is laughing at his disobedience.  I am seething.  And I yelled.  And I was obeyed.  For all. the. wrong. reasons.

So with my older boy on the potty and with my younger boy on the floor trying to eat yet another book, I asked forgiveness from my older son for yelling. And he says, "I forgive you. Don't ever do that again, okay, Mommy?"  And I said, "I'll work on that.  How about you work on not lying to me because Mommy always wants to hear the truth from you.  Okay, son?"  And we hug.  And we're restored.  Two sinners figuring out this thing called the graceful life.

Proverbs 15:1- A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.  

Is it ironic that this is our theme verse this week?  I'm failing to see the humor in the irony right now, but I know that I need these words of life right now.  So deeply.  I need them to root themselves in my heart so that they will come out of my mouth.  Gentle answers turn away wrath, calming angry hearts and building up souls.  At the end of the day, that's what I want to do.  Build up their souls and train their hearts to love God well, looking to Him for the strength to obey and to love others.  Amen.

Monday, February 6, 2012

What we're eating.

On Sunday afternoon, I put one of my favorite West Wing episodes on and started meal planning.  The cupboards weren't bare since I had just gone to Plevna and Amboy markets on Saturday, but we had almost no milk, no yogurt, no bananas, and no tissues.  This normally signifies that my two weeks are up, and I need to go back to the store.

For the record, if I truly was planning well, I would have made my dinner in the crockpot before leaving the house; but our last 24 hours have included presenting our ministry with CEF at a local church, a Superbowl party, and 4 hours in the ER. I'm flying by the seat of my pants a bit more than usual.

Here's my Week at a Glance!  Schedule's on top.  Meals are on the bottom.  This is incredibly helpful to me because I definitely don't need to plan a 5-course feast for the day that I'll be out of the house until 4:30 p.m.  This week's planning is pretty simple since we're going out to eat a couple of times (a rarity for us!), but my birthday is on Friday and our SWEET college gals are giving us a date night on Thursday.  Here's what's cooking at my house

Monday: Corn Chowder & Honey Bran Muffins

Tuesday: Creamy Veggie Chowder & Italian Herb Bread

Wednesday: Leftovers night (I have church, and Teacher Man does all of his lesson planning this night.)

Thursday: Chili and Cornbread (We're going out, but the kids gotta eat!)

Friday: My birthday.... sooooo not cooking.

Saturday: Family Christmas (I know we're way behind, but my mom just got back from Michigan and we have a lot to celebrate.)

Sunday: Frozen Lasagna & Garlic Bread

I know I'm doing a week with a crazy number of soups.  Here's why: 
1. Friends have been asking for my soup recipes.  
2. I don't remember how I actually make a recipe if I haven't done it recently.  
3. We are going to eat a ridiculous amount of calories when we eat out and at my parents' home.  It's a great week for filling soups and whole-grain breads.

You'll notice that Sunday has frozen lasagna.  A pan of lasagna feeds an army so I always freeze a couple of boxes full when I make a batch.  Cooking on Sunday is sacrilegious, right?  I'll be using my handy dandy microwave when we get back from church to make a hot tasty meal.  Just in case you want my lasagna recipe, that's coming next week.

Tomorrow will be cookie baking day as well.  I'm hiding garbanzo beans in their chocolate chip cookies.  This makes me feel like a good mom... and like I'm pulling one over on them when they beg for one of these.  I'm okay with both of these feelings.

Today's cooking was super easy.  I've got the Honey Bran Muffins almost memorized.  These are delicious, moist, and da dada daaaa..... fat-free.  Pretty awesome, right?  Be forewarned.  These are super dense, but the super yumminess makes up for it.  Here's the recipe if you're ready to venture into the world of whole grains:

Honey Bran Muffins

1 1/2 cups wheat bran
1/2 cup very hot water
1 egg
1/3 cup honey
1 cup buttermilk (I use 1 T apple cider vinegar with 1 cup milk as a substitute.)
1 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 1/4 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1/2-1 tsp. cinnamon (if desired)

1. Preheat oven to 350 and spray pan.  If you use muffin papers, spray the papers.
2. Mix bran and hot water and allow to rest for 5 minutes.
3. Mix egg, honey, and buttermilk.  Add bran mixture.
4. Stir in flour, soda, salt, and cinnamon until completely mixed.
5. Pour into muffin tins and bake for 20-25 minutes. Makes 12 muffins.  

Also, we tried this take on Sue Gregg's Corn Chowder tonight for the first time.  Ready for easy?

4 cups frozen corn (1 16 oz. bag)
4 cups lowfat milk
1 small onion, diced
1 large potato, shredded
1 bay leaf
1/4 tsp. paprika
1 T dried parsley
1 tsp. salt
1 T butter

1. Puree 3 cups of frozen corn with 2 cups of milk.
2. Mix pureed corn and milk with all other ingredients in dutch oven.
3. Simmer for 20-30 minutes until corn and potatoes are tender.

Serving whole foods doesn't have to be hard.  The muffins took about 10 minutes to prep.  The soup took about 15 minutes. It probably wouldn't have taken that long if I didn't have a baby crying at my ankles.   Speaking of which, I'm being paged in the nursery.  If you give either of these a try, let me know how they turned out.  Love variations!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

That's the way I like it.

For the past week, I've planned; and the plans have actually turned out the way I intended.  (Insert gasp here.)  I know!  I've put fun stuff in the schedule for the kids.  Huge smiles!  I've had my meals for two weeks planned and shopped for (with the lowest grocery bill in a long time), and my family has enjoyed them all so far.  After weeks of chaos with the holidays, sickness, and my grandfather's funeral; I've planned extra-chilled days that would definitely include nap times (and rest for me too!).  It's been a huge boost to my own morale, and when I remind the kids how lucky they are to be on-schedule, I'm sure it warms their hearts too.  No??  Oh well.

Here are some things that are working for us.  If they work for you too, sweet.  If not, rejoice with this rejoicing sister.

1. Family calendar sync.  Teacher Man keeps track of his entire life on Google Calendar.  School. Family. Church.  It's all on there.  Color-coordinated.  And he teases me for being type A.  Ahem.  I, however, love the feel of paper.  The portability of paper.  I'm the crazy chick that goes into a used bookstore just to smell the air.  So I have calendar pages (monthly) that are in my home organization binder.  On Sunday evening, Dave and I sit down.  He shares the upcoming challenges in his week, and I let him know what epic adventures we've got planned at home. (Pretty sure that the most epic adventures are the unplanned ones, but this at least gives him an idea of what he's coming home to.)  This has been tremendously helpful!  When we have synced the calendars (3 minutes tops!), the rest of the week goes much more smoothly and with fewer frustrations.  Plus, this also allows me to see if I'll be needing sitters anytime during the week.  Score.

2. Menu planning.  I know. I know.  I'm in love with organization.  I already knew that.  But seriously! It only takes 15 minutes! I normally menu plan while sitting in the bathroom watching my boys splash each other in the tub.  Planning out the meals two weeks in advance and shopping every two weeks is saving us money on take-out and on last-minute purchases. Bonus: it helps my type-A, planner self to chill out and know that dinner is already in the cupboard.  This has lead to something else that's working...

3. Cooking with real food.  I've been purposing to cook with whole foods more (I highly recommend Sue Gregg's Cookbooks!).  This means more whole grains, fresh fruits and veggies, and homemade breads.  Obviously, this takes time; but it really isn't an inconvenience when I plan for it.  It's just part of the day, and the boys love to help. Okay, Caleb is helpful.  Ben just wants to sample... everything.

Just this week we've had honeyed lentils and rice (yum!), creamy turkey rice soup with bolillos, and homemade macaroni and cheese with barbecued venison sandwiches.  Teacher Man has smiled at every meal, which indicates that the whole foods menu hasn't made us sacrifice flavor.  So thankful that butter is a whole food.  Amen.

4. A weekly planner.  Ann Voskamp made a great daily docket, but that just didn't work for me.  I think broader, and I don't take time every night to plan the next day.  I'm normally chilling on the couch with Teacher Man, trying not to think about anything.  However, her weekly planner gives me a way to think through the logistics of each day while also laying out the meals.  I actually filled in meals where she gives spaces to organize your children's activities.  I have two children under four. They don't drive. Our schedules are pretty much the same.  I hang the weekly calendar on a clipboard right by my back door.  This is right next to the kitchen so every time I go from the kitchen to the garage (which is a LOT!) I have the opportunity to glance at what I need to prep for dinner and what events are planned for the day.

So there you have it.  Those things (and not having been sick) have made the last week and a half a delight!  We've basked in the 50 degree weather, taken bike rides as a family, celebrated my dad's birthday with a special dinner, and played with a friend's children so she could have a sick day.  All these things were not on the calendar, but we had time for them because the dailies had already been worked out.  Love that.
And love this little thumb sucker.  A lot.