08 February 2015

Chantilly Lace

A few weeks ago, I made a finger-knitted blanket for the little girl we are expecting in 9 weeks. I folded it up when I was done and put it on her dresser on which a satin box used by my grandmother to hold her gloves was sitting. 

Today I got the blanket out to show my mother-in-law, and very clearly caught the scent of Chantilly Lace, the perfume Grammy used to wear. I had never noticed that the box smelled of her perfume, but on the blanket the scent was obvious.  

This pregnancy has been hard. Not physically but emotionally.  There's been a lot of grief over "what wasn't" when I was pregnant with Elora and a lot of fear over "what could be" with this little one.  It's been overwhelming sometimes and sometimes I am just very afraid. 

Today was one of those days. But when I caught that whiff of Grammy's perfume it was like a little kiss from my grandmother. My heart sang a little. I felt a surreal sense of peace and a reminder that, come what may, Baby Girl and I are "held" right now and will be in the future, too. It was a gift. A gift from beyond. 

Thank you, Grammy. 

04 March 2014

The Way of the Cross (Some thoughts on family worship during Lent and Easter)

Introduction: A little about Easter...

Signs of spring are here.  Birds are beginning to build nests.  Flowers are starting to bloom. Soon farmers will be turning the soil and preparing the ground for seed. All around us nature is waking up. Preparation is being made for another growth cycle.
Within this growth cycle of spring, Easter is coming. It finds its way into the spring calendar every year, its date moving like a Mexican jumping bean. Have you ever wondered why? Why don't we have a fixed date for Easter as we do for Christmas?
In the early church, bishops in the East and those in Rome were celebrating the Easter feast on different Sundays. Apparently there was no unanimity on the date of Jesus' resurrection. So when the bishops came together to address some deep theological matters in Nicaea in 325 A.D., they addressed this practical issue of ensuring the same day was chosen to celebrate the Easter feast every year. Since there was no strong consensus on the original date, they felt that Sunday was the most appropriate date to celebrate. Changing to a uniform date did away with any future arguments about the true Easter date.
The new system, determined by the moon's phases, ensured that the Easter feasts would jump around within a small window of dates. Tying the dates to the moon phases ensured that no one could get the dates wrong again. Such dating sounds strange to modern ears, but it made very good sense to people of the fourth century who were tied to the land and the heavens. The council of Nicaea decided that Easter would be celebrated on the Sunday following the first full moon that occurred after the spring equinox. Because of the way the lunar calendar cycles, Easter must occur between March 22 and April 25.
...And a little about Lent
The preparation for Easter became known as Lent, which comes from the Old English word "lencten," meaning "lengthen" as the days do as winter gives way to spring.
According to the liturgical calendar, Lent begins  on Ash Wednesday, seven Wednesdays before Easter. Ash Wednesday is a day when we remember our mortality, our finite nature. Our time on this earth is brief. The Psalmist says, "Men and women don't live very long; like wildflowers they spring up and blossom, But a storm snuffs them out just as quickly, leaving nothing to show they were here" (Psalms 103:15).  Lent continues for 40 days (not counting Sundays) moving through six weeks at the beginning of Spring to Holy Week's Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, and concluding the Saturday before Easter. 
The 40 days of Lent were being observed by the early church by the 4th century.   Easter was the primary celebration of the early church and a period of intense fasting before the celebration of Easter was instituted very shortly after Jesus’ death and resurrection.  As time went on, that time of fasting was lengthened.  In the early church, Lent became a time of preparation for those who were to be baptized, a time of concentrated study and prayer before their baptism at the Easter Vigil. Those who had become believers during the year were baptized early Easter Sunday morning. As these new members were received into a living community of faith, the entire community was called to preparation. This also became a time when those who had been separated from the Church would prepare to rejoin the community.
The number 40 is connected with many biblical events, but especially with the 40 days Jesus spent in the wilderness preparing for his ministry, overcoming temptations that could have led him to abandon his mission and calling. Christians today use this period for introspection, self-examination and repentance.

Why celebrate Lent as a Family?

At this time of year, preparations are being made all around us for another growth cycle.  The Earth is warming and greening.  New life is beginning to bud and bloom.   Why should it be any different within our spiritual lives? Spiritual growth is more intentional than not. Jesus modeled that spiritual growth involves spiritual disciplines.
Easter is on the calendar and Easter Day will come and go whether we do any planning. However, Easter will not produce much spiritual growth in us without preparation. We may find ourselves stooping down to peer inside the empty tomb on Easter morning without a great deal of excitement or awe, since we've heard the story so many times before, unless we prepare ourselves for that morning and for the words of the angel: "He is not here for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay" (Matthew 28:6).
If a farmer misses the window to plant a crop, he will not have time to reap a harvest. If we waste precious days or precious years, we can't get them back. Lent reminds us to seize the moment. Make the season of Lent an intentional season of growth. Make Lent a spiritual journey toward the cross, and then you'll bend down and be in awe of the empty tomb. Easter will be a day of celebration and not just another day!

Adapted for my purposes (with my biases and research but with borrowed verbiage) from “Explaining Lent to Non-Liturgical Christians” by Michael Helms (please click through to read his much-more-eloquent explanation).

Lenten Worship

Fasting, Prayer and Almsgiving

Traditionally, these three spiritual disciplines form the pillars of Lenten practice.  All three are meant to unite different aspects of our lives with Christ’s suffering.  Many people give up a favorite practice such as eating an indulgent food (i.e. sugar, caffeine, chocolate, etc.) using a debit card, swearing, etc.   Others fast for a certain day of the week, or skip a certain meal, or eat a simple dinner.   Others adopt a certain prayer focus such as praying for missionaries, a certain country, the persecuted church, etc.  All of these things are designed to make us conscious of Christ’s work in the world and in ourselves.   As a family, you may wish to think of one practice in each of these areas that would enhance your preparation for Easter. 

Devotionals, readings, crafts and music

There are many wonderful Lenten devotional books and readings available.  A Bible reading plan that focuses on the Gospels can also be a wonderful way to be reminded of who Jesus is and what He did that led to His crucifixion and Resurrection.  A family might choose to read through one of the Gospels in the weeks before Easter or use a children’s devotional to make projects that remind you of the path Jesus took to the cross.
There are also many wonderful choices available when it comes to worshipful music.  Lent is an excellent time to introduce kids to music they might not have experienced before like chant, oratory, or classical pieces. The titles listed below are a very, very small sampling of the many resources available.  These all have child-relatable elements.  I find myself using them again and again.  Use your discernment as to whether these fit your family's theological convictions.

Worship Space

You may wish to create your own space for contemplation or observation.  A purple cloth on a table, a chair
with a Bible and a journal… these things communicate that there is something different about this time, something special.  You may want to decorate differently than you do the rest of the year.  Adding pictures or books in a special basket for little ones to enjoy incorporates them into the space.  This space doesn’t have to be complicated.  Rocks, wood, a nail, a small cross…thing that children can touch and hold makes a difference in their understanding of the Jesus story!

Lenten wreath, cross or spiral

Just as an Advent wreath helps to count the days or weeks to Christmas in a very visible, tactile, sense-engaging way, so do candles in some form help to create anticipation during Lent.  A weekly countdown should include 6 candles.  A daily countdown would need 40 (if Sundays are not included).  A Lenten cross can be made from wood, or can simply be a poster board cross, onto which candles in votive holders are set. Simple wreaths are also available at many Christian bookstores or online (try Catholic bookstores).  An Advent to Lent spiral is an especially beautiful way to remember the days.


Repentance box

A repentance box is a very visible reminder of God’s pardon for us.  Mistakes, errors and sins are written on slips of paper and put in the box.  On Good Friday, the pieces of paper can be nailed to the cross.  Or, another option is to write the word “FORGIVEN” on each slip of paper and throw them away or burn the pieces.  Or, a parent may wish to empty the box so it can be presented on Easter morning.


“Dust” bowl

A bowl with flour in it is a tactile way to remember that “we are dust, and to dust we shall return”.   Playing in the dust is a great way to redirect an older child (or adult) by asking them to draw something representing their sins in the dust and then erase it. Another great take on this can be found at this link.


Forced blooms
A beautiful way to recognize new life is to cut some branches from a flowering bush such as forsythia or a cherry tree, place in water and allow the branches to open in time.  These, inevitably, will open before Easter.  If you want to control the bloom, you may wish to use barren branches and then replace them with flowering branches at Easter.


Jesus Tree

Similar to a Jesse Tree at Advent, a Jesus tree is a lovely way to contemplate Jesus’ way to the cross by using scripture and art to tell the story.  You can make your own versions, but an excellent free (and gorgeous) version is available at Holy Experience from Ann Voskamp

Holy Week

The week leading to the Crucifixion and Resurrection is among the most ancient of Christian celebrations. Observing this week can bring the love, sacrifice, pain and exhilaration of Easter into sharp focus.

Palm Sunday

The week begins on Palm Sunday, a week before Easter, when the church remembers Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem amidst waving palms and shouts of “Hosanna!”   This is an excellent day to act out the Easter story.  A young child will not soon forget taking a turn on a Daddy-donkey or waving homemade palms of construction paper.  I love this idea to use peg people and blocks to act out the story and we will be using it weekly throughout Lent this year. Older kids might like to make crosses of palms.  A great family activity is to spend some time thinking about how you will observe the coming week.

Maundy Thursday

From the Latin “maundatum” or “mandate,”  Maundy Thursday is celebrated as the day Jesus met with the disciples in the Upper Room for the passover together.  The “mandate” comes from his command that his disciples “Love one another as I have loved you”.    Different ways to mark this day include reading the account from John and celebrating communion as a family; or, perhaps, reading the account in Luke and Matthew that include Jesus washing His disciples’ feet and a family footwashing followed by a discussion on servant leadership.  Another idea is to have a Seder meal celebrating the Passover as Jesus did.  There are many, many resources on observing a family Seder meal available on the internet. Start here for some great ideas. 

Good Friday

Jesus was crucified before the Jewish celebration of the Sabbath, so we recognize this day on the Friday before Easter.  It is a solemn day and many Christians choose to fast on Good Friday.  One of the most meaningful ways to remember the crucifixion is to construct a cross and allow all members of the family to nail it together.  If you create a repentance box, it can be incorporated into this activity, too.
Another very beautiful and meaningful way to observe Good Friday is with a Tenebrae Service. “Tenebrae” is the Latin for “darkness” and this service is often referred to as “the service of shadows”.  Generally, the crucifixion account from Matthew is read as candles are extinguished one by one.  The service ends in darkness.

In many churches, the cross that is in front of the church during Lent and even the altar, is draped in black at this service.  A family might consider adding black to their worship space or creating a “crown of thorns” from a wreath.

Easter day

Many families have very specific Easter celebration traditions, but you may want to incorporate a renewed focus on 
the Resurrection into your morning.  A table that was barren on Friday and Saturday set with flowers and bright colors on Easter communicates the joy of the day.  Resurrection rolls (rolls baked with marshmallows inside) are a nice breakfast treat.  You may want to practice the ancient greeting, “Christ is Risen!” followed by the response, “He is risen, indeed!” Or, blasting the Hallelujah chorus as the kids come downstairs might appeal to you.  If you made a cross, you may want to put fresh flowers and a white cloth on it.  Whatever, you do, do it for Him!  Remember, His resurrection changes everything!

For more great information church year activities check out my Kairos board on Pinterest.  There's lots there on observing "God's time" with your family.

04 January 2014

A month in the valley

I am not sure how many friends read here anymore, but for those who don't know via facebook, one month ago today our daughter, Elora Eilis, who was due to be born in early April, was born after we discovered she had died in utero at 26 weeks.

This month seems as though it has carried an entire life's worth of feeling in it. Elora's death and birth brought into clear focus the fragile beauty of life which is a realization that carries with it the weight of Glory, I think. We went into the Advent and Christmas season with a stark awareness of our desperation for God to arrive in places so previously dark and seemingly uninhabitable that His arrival could only be described in terms of dazzling Light. "God with us" has never seemed more true.  In grief, He has been constant, never turning or foresaking. Like the great lion weeping with a small boy in a new country, He has demonstrated over and over again just how very "with us" He is.

This next week, we head back to the small classical school we attend. There, our children will be taught by loving friends and in turn, I will have the opportunity to meet every day with young minds stuffed full-to-overflowing with big ideas. I am so grateful for them all, but there is a part of me that is mourning the movement of time, the inevitable loss of this place wherein we have walked the valley of the shadow of death hand-in-hand with our Savior. The valley has been dark, but His presence has illumined our very souls.

As we begin to emerge from the deep onto the plain, I know that His light will come from other sources, too.  And while we need that and will rejoice in it, I confess, I will miss how aware I have been of His nearness. Like Mary in the garden, clinging to resurrected Christ, a great part of me doesn't understand how to both let go and still see Him clearly before me, also. I hear Him saying, "I will never leave you nor forsake you" but my goodness, I do so
want to cling...

01 January 2014

On 2013

As posted to facebook

"Dennis and I have been reflecting on 2013 these past few days. This tenth year of our marriage was such a hard year for us in so many ways: the loss of our Elora obviously tops the list. But we dealt with a systemic strep infection that had at least one person in the house sick constantly from Jan to May until we finally figured out the illness, a hospital stay for Emmeliese, a lot of overtime work hours, a difficult pregnancy...We decided to work through parenting difficulties with the help of a counselor, which, though incredibly helpful, is just hard... I faced a frustrating medical diagnosis... Dennis gave up carbs and sugar, for goodness sake. It felt tough on many levels. 

But 2013 was also extraordinarily wonderful. It was, by far, the year in which God grew us deepest into the soil of his provision. We have a long way to go, but we experienced such joy and satisfaction this year. We have discovered creativity and passions we had forgotten. We have developed understanding and compassion we didn't have. Our love for each other and our children is greater and deeper than we ever imagined it could be. Our pruning has brought forth flowers and fruit. We have seen resurrection from those parts of ourselves we have let die.

And, family and friends, we have been reminded again and again of the goodness of God's people. You have borne our sorrows and our pain, along with our ineptitude and mistakes, and have showed us grace and generosity and love, love, love again and again. Your prayers and practical love have sustained us. We are humbled and grateful for what God has done through you.

At the end of this difficult, beautiful year we pray that you and yours also see God's good and merciful hand shaping your 2013. He withholds no good thing from us...

Here's to 2014! 

03 February 2012

Seeing things

It's a slow start to our weekend here. I'm sitting in our living room which is lit only by candles. Dennis got home just a few minutes ago and is taking a brief snooze on the couch. Peter is fast asleep in my arms. The older three are watching a Scholastic dvd and Pete Seeger is reading to them in the den. There's a pot roast and potatoes in the oven. It's been unseasonably warm here and I see a bit of a mist is starting to descend.

This week, we received the sad news that a classmate died suddenly. She was 36 with three little girls and a husband who adored her. We all adored her. She was wonderful.

I know it is cliché in times like this to reflect on the brevity of life. But it occurs to me that if I knew this life were to end tomorrow, I'd want to spend it just like this, with eyes wide open to the quiet beauty all around me.

29 November 2011

Somewhere to be real

"When the world can turn around and see a group of God’s people exhibiting substantial healing in the area of human relationships in their present life, then the world will take notice. ~ Francis Schaffer

Why is it that church people find it so very hard to be real with each other?

I hear of people wandering through their church experiences deeply wounded, longing for real connection, fearing judgment, unable to let down fences and guards and walls. I hear of churches deserting people in real need, dropping people who end up being sinful. I hear about pastors and parishioners without grace, without mercy, without humility.

So often Christians insist on being surprised, disappointed, afraid, angry when we find out people have failed. We accept the pretense that a Christian should have it all together. We act as though we are above sin, beyond sin, over sin.

If there is ONE PLACE where we ought to be able to be as broken as we actually are in real life, it is the church.

If there is ONE PLACE where we ought not fear if other see us fully, cracked and shattered, it is the church.

If there is ONE PLACE where we ought share our desperate need to be filled with something (actually SomeOne), who will not ooze out of us but will remain, abide, heal... it is the church.

If there is ONE PLACE where we ought practice confession and repentence, it is the church.

If there is ONE PLACE where we ought preach and teach and LIVE forgiveness and love, love, love, it is the church.

So why is it that it is so hard to be real in this one place?

07 November 2011

The D-word

I am a distracted person. Flylady would call me Sidetracked. But what I think of as "the D-word" makes more sense to me. "Unable to concentrate because one's mind is pre-occupied." Yup. That's me.

Over the past 6 3/4 years of motherhood, I've found that distractions are a little like a drug to me. I am embarrassed to admit that I have a hard time being "present" to my children minute after minute, hour after hour, day after day. I know some women who are just really wonderful at tuning in to their children's wants, needs, dreams, etc. And I'm, frustratingly, not one of them. Give me the opportunity to be distracted and I'm there!

Honestly, I like to think about grown-up things. Big ideas and deep conversations get me very excited. And while I know that one day my children will be able to engage in those conversations with me...well...that's a long way off.

I've been simultaneously glad for, and loathing of, the outlet the internet has provided for me. I find it hard to be a homeschooling mother of people who mainly want to talk about the toys they want to buy with the mythical money they'll never earn doing chores they refuse to contemplate. I've loved the internet -- reading the bloggy thoughts of women and men far wiser than I -- the opportunity to create some sort of alternative community -- it's all made this very isolating job of stay-at-home-schooling-mother a little easier for this extrovert.

But I've also noticed over the past few years "the D-word". I'm just distracted. I found myself crafting facebook status updates while washing dishes. Or wondering about a controversial blog post while reading a book to a child. Or completely ignoring the mountain of laundry on which we live while I spent time reading about the role of women in the New Testament on various internet sites (yeah, nerd-dom never leaves this girl). I just was not here and available to this family emotionally like I should be. Like I want to be. Like I really believe God wants me to be and has called me to be. Distracted.

To combat this, just a little, I got rid of my smartphone a month or so ago. Doing so, means that I don't have access to the internet until Dennis brings his smartphone (which has our wiresless hotspot on it) home from work. I have found it to be a big adjustment. For the first week or so, I felt like I had an itch I could not scratch. But after that, I've found a lot of peace in the disconnection. And once I got used to not having immediate access to information, I think my brain became a little less stream-of-consciousness and that I'm a little more linear. More focused, maybe. (A teeny bit, at least.)

I guess what I've experienced is another D-word that I've always dreaded. "Discipline". I know other people learn this as young children. I'm learning it now. And, you know... it's not ALL bad.

18 August 2011

We are so blessed to have him

My beloved grandfather turned 88 this Aug 3. Here he is with 6 of 7 great-grandchildren. We all gathered to celebrate and give him presents, but we all know WE are the ones with the gift.

17 August 2011

Wherein she attempts to defeat Ecc. 5:3

"A fool's voice is known by many words" Ecc 5:3b

The last twelve months have been such a rich time in our lives. We've started homeschooling, moved into a house, had a baby, visited the NICU while said baby was healing, started unpacking, continued working on the house, continued homeschooling, continued working on the house, continued unpacking, finished homeschool, continued unpacking, continued working on the house, continued unpacking, continued working on the house...

It feels like there has been A LOT to process. And while I'm one who processes "verbally", as it were, it has seemed like a year to be silent here, for the most part, and reveal fool-ishness elsewhere.

But we are all doing well - growing in age and, hopefully, wisdom, too, and I find that I'd like a bit more of a record of who we are and what we are doing than I've had over the last year here. So maybe now is the time for more words. We'll see...

10 March 2011

This third child

My little Emmeliese Elizabeth turned two today.

I do love this third child of mine. She is one of the cutest things I've ever seen. Big brown eyes. Hilarious expressions. Engaging laughter and mannerisms. She's adorable.

Emmeliese loves to be in the thick of whatever is going on with her siblings. She won't stand for being left out of some activity; she inserts herself into the center of the action. She tends to want to play with whatever is being played-with, draw with whatever is being drawn-with, eat whatever is being eaten, go wherever others are going, do whatever others are doing.

She loves her little brother and constantly wants to hold him. Or rock him. Or cram his pacifier in his mouth to "help" him.

A story for posterity on the occasion of her second birthday.... Emmeliese also happens to be a total and complete mess-maker. Her father and I call her Destructo because the kid breaks, bends, amends or alters almost everything she touches. She doesn't do these things maliciously and she's not particularly disobedient; she's just so. flipping. curious! I've gotten so accustomed to her constant alteration of items, surfaces, plans, etc. that I sometimes don't realize that the poor thing hears, "Emmeliese! NO!" at least fifty times a day. And that's just from me.

A few weeks ago, my mother-in-law was visiting. My MIL is someone who likes things to be in original order all the time. When the kids spill something, she cleans it up immediately -- no waiting for them to clean it up for themselves. When something is out of place or slightly askew, it drives her nuts. Her children have tormented her in the past by moving the zipper on her purse so the pulls were off-center. You know the type, right?

Emmeliese kept the poor woman on her toes. It was hilarious, and thankfully, my MIL has a sense of humor to match her desire for order and saw that herself. Through her reactions and attempts to right that which was wrong, I saw anew the wondrous and terrifying power that is Emmeliese Stewart. Here's a literal rundown of about two hours for Emmeliese.

- Eat cereal with spoon until cereal is below milk level and spoon is on floor.

- Proceed to eat cereal with hand.

-Wipe hand on hair and table.

- Get down from table.

- Find orange crayon near table.

- Draw circles on the wall nearest table.

- Notice Mommy noticing the drawing on the wall.

- Move to the kitchen, out of Mommy's eyesight to draw on drawers there.

- Discover alphabet magnets on fridge.

- Get into lower cabinets to find the perfect carrying container for magnets.

- Leave rejected receptacles of pyrex and cooking sheets on the floor.

- Carry magnets into living room.

- Dump magnets on floor.

- Pick up magnets one at a time and place in VCR slot of tv.

- Move to library when Grandma is alerted to presence of magnets on tv.

- Find wooden lacing beads in box.

- Pull off of shelf

- Take beads out of box and attempt to string on shoestring.

- Scream loudly when frustrated with attempted lacing.

- Watch Grandma and Daniel trying to put together a puzzle.

- Dump other puzzle pieces into Grandma and Daniel's stack.

- Move to books on shelves.

- Climb up one shelf of books to reach pop-up book about fairies.

- Read pop-up book.

- Decide pop-up book should be dismantled.

- Act dismayed and cry when Mommy takes book away.

- Find Daniel's birthday card on floor.

- Run around with card, screaming when Daniel gets close enough to grab card.

- Rip top off of card.

- Cry when Daniel takes card back and says, "NO, BABY!!"

- Go to Mommy to report Daniel's behavior.

I suppose one could get pretty upset or exasperated by this crazy kid. But for some reason, this stuff doesn't much bother me, her daddy, or her older brother and sister. They get annoyed with her but all is erased when she runs up to them to offer a kiss and a hug.

I don't know if I'm just a more relaxed parent or whether I've realized that most things can be fixed or that I am learning that most of the stuff that's easy to see as a parent is not worth making a mountain over. Those are possibilities as to why I am relatively unfazed by her redecorating, most of the time. But I think the real reason is because she's just so darn cute.

And cute goes a long way around here. Happy birthday, sweet little E!!

18 February 2011

Peter smiling

I snapped this with my phone's camera the other morning. It's not great quality, but he sure is cute. :)

12 February 2011

Love bade me welcome

At Valentine's Day, one of our traditions is that I force anyone who will stand sort of still for a bit to listen to poetry. This is one of my faves.

Love bade me welcome

Love bade me welcome, yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-ey'd Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
If I lack'd anything.

"A guest," I answer'd, "worthy to be here";
Love said, "You shall be he."
"I, the unkind, the ungrateful? ah my dear,
I cannot look on thee."
Love took my hand and smiling did reply,
"Who made the eyes but I?"

"Truth, Lord, but I have marr'd them; let my shame
Go where it doth deserve."
"And know you not," says Love, "who bore the blame?"
"My dear, then I will serve."
"You must sit down," says Love, "and taste my meat."
So I did sit and eat.
-- George Herbert

It's even more beautiful in the setting by Vaughan William, I think. This version is so gorgeous and I was so excited to see that Thomas Allen is the baritone for this. Sublime.

09 February 2011

One of my favorite pictures ever

Meeting little brother for the first time

Those on facebook have already seen this, but I wanted to share here. (And, fyi, there are more pics at this link.)

31 January 2011

Preparing for Snow-maggedon

So... it's supposed to snow...

We're in the 13-18" area.

My facebook friends headed to the store to stock up on things yesterday and today. I resisted the urge to do the same. Instead of heading to Walmart, I thought I'd prepare by finding some links to fun snow-day activities. If anyone else has fun snow-related activities to do, I'd love to know about them! Here are just a few to get started...

Snacks and Treats

We will likely make Snowman Soup. We have one good story to accompany our Snowman Soup, but I think we need another, so we'll likely write a story and illustrate it as part of our preparation.

I've been waiting to make these frozen banana snowmen with the kids.

We may also make some sort of snowball cake sort of like these. I love the yellow cake recipe here. It's so easy and I always get delicious results. We'll top with coconut, which my children love and we hardly ever have. A snowman cake is here.

Here's a Snow White Pizza that looks different and deliciously fun! Or one could make it with alfredo, carrots, and mushrooms and make a Snowman Pizza.

Crafts and Games

There's always snowflake-making. We're going to do ours out of leftover white tissue paper from Christmas and we may cut them into hearts to work as a Valentine decoration.

These snowman pins are cute and would work as magnets, which we happen to have on hand.

Tic-Tac-Snow is fun. The gluing of the cottonballs to the penny is quite the event. I don't usually let my children glue things. :)


I think I'm going to have Annalivia and Daniel do the snowman name graph and scarf pattern found at this link.

And Almost Unschoolers has many cool projects involving snow. We'll be doing this experiment, but I'd suggest searching her blog for "snow" to see her brilliant ideas!

And, if this snow drags on and on, we are going to scrap the winter-related themes and get out the gardening book and seed catalogs! Happy Snow Day(s)!!

26 January 2011

My perceptive son

My kids are fans of the PBS show, Wild Kratts which features Kratt brothers Martin and Chris in various wild animal related adventure. The brothers are animated and one is always depicted wearing green and the other wears blue.

For the record, here is a picture of Chris Kratt.

This morning, Daniel was watching PBS - Sesame Street this time - and discovered that there is a character on that show named Chris. Daniel watched for a while and then came over to explain to me that, because the Chris-es have the same name, they have different colored shirts. The different colored shirts eliminate the confusion one might encounter in dealing with two individuals of the same name. It is, he explained, how we can tell them apart from each other.

For the record, here is a picture of Sesame Street's Chris

And a side-by-side comparison, just in case.

Isn't PBS thoughtful? :)

24 January 2011

A theology of Gratitude

I've been reading Ann Voskamp's blog for a long time... before I actually understood what a "blog" was, really. She's an extraordinary presence - immensely gifted, even more humble, passionate and yet also compassionate, wise and still seeking, artistic and also grounded in the literal dirt, sweat, blood, and tears of life. (And, as an aside- is there a more well-read woman in the northern hemisphere?) I've longed to have her spiritual maturity and honest longing for God. I've followed her suggestions at Lent and Advent and dutifully started up a gratitude journal. I've made some embarrassing attempts at emulating her writing style. I've even more embarrassingly read and re-read the comments she left here a few times. :) I've not googled her to find out where she lives, yet, but I could have wondered... :)

Anyway - let's just say - I've been a fan for a long time.

So I don't know why I was surprised.

But I was.

I opened her book and began reading. I expected to be moved, expected to be inspired, but did not expect to be shifted into another universe of thought, did not expect to be fundamentally changed.

This book... oh my...what to say about this book that has taken my breath away and swept me up into her dizzying, gloriously stretching, delightfully revealing journey?

This book... is good. And I don't mean "good" as in "nice, fun, happy". I mean "GOOOOOOD!" I mean, "God looked at his creation and saw that it was GOOD" sort of "good." It's the sort of "good" that can only come about after total emptiness has been filled by the Divine -- complete with all the breaking and burning and molding and shaping and groaning that divine birth involves.

This book is so much more than a practical guide to creating a gratitude list, though one could find that in it. It is more than a memoir, more than a reflection on the intersection of the mundane and the divine, though it is definitely these things, too. What this book is, at its essence is a book of profound contemplations on the desire of a creation to be returned to communion with its Creator. From her opening assertions that the original sin is one of ingratitude, Ann spins the tale of how she runs, dances, stumbles and gropes the path of redemption found in a life of thanksgiving.

What Ann has created is an extraordinarily insightful, nuanced and deeply honest theology of Gratitude. The answer she has found to the meaning of life (living in intentional thanksgiving) appears to be simple. But the answer goes beyond just keeping a numbered list of God's gifts, something I've done without the essential accompanying contemplation of God's very nature, His plan for our restoration, His willingness to enter into our lives. Ann knows that living out the satisfied life is so much more than a sterile list. Ann knows that living eucharisteo is perhaps the most challenging task a mortal, fallen creature can undertake. She treats her exploration with all the raw desire, startling honesty and passionate reverence that such a task deserves. It's amazing.

I really wish I could buy tons of these books to hand out to family and friends and church members. And strangers, for that matter. If people get hold of the concept of a life-lived-in-thanksgiving, well... it could be life-changing. I know it already is changing mine.

Thank you, Ann.

21 January 2011

Prayer calendar

I've been working on getting a prayer calendar together that will import to my smart phone. I've finally got this one on my Google calendar and thought I'd share the link in case it could help anyone else.

The link for XML (feed readers) is here and iCal is here and the link to view it in HTML in a web browser is here.

When I get together my prayer calendar for Dennis, I'll post it here, too.

10 January 2011

Just So Stories

Recently, we got a Kindle onto which I eventually plan to load a bunch of homeschool books. To fill the gap between receiving the thing and that time at which I unpack the curriculum discs or, more accurately, the time at which I find the instructions for loading said curriculum onto a reader, I downloaded a free copy of Kipling's Just So Stories. I've been reading them to the kids and have been having so much fun!

I haven't read these stories since late junior high and I never appreciated the wit and humor in them back then. The language and vocab is so rich and the characters so lighthearted... They are just a pleasure to dramatize vocally, and the kids sit in rapt attention (mostly) even though the meaning of a good third of it must go right over their heads. It really does make me eager to find more classics to share with them!

03 January 2011

Resolutions- the 90 day version

I love the first of the year, and while I wish I were evolved enough to join the trend toward not-making resolutions, I also love this particular tradition, even though I've never actually fulfilled a resolution in my entire life. :)

This year, I thought I'd get fancy and try my resolutions in 90-day chunks. Dennis recently had a fabulous success in reading the New Testament in the 90 days before Advent, and it inspired both of us to "think small" when it comes to big changes in life. So here's what I (and Dennis, too, actually) will be doing in some 90-day chunks in the near future...
-Reading the Bible in 90 days ( a la biblegateway.com - it's delivered to our smart phones, which makes reading throughout the day pretty manageable!)
-Joining Weight Watchers online (after I'm cleared by my doc @ my 6 week appt.) and following the plan (again, the accessibility through our phones is just awesome)
- Joining e-mealz.com and cooking at home, mostly (we did lots of eating-out in Dec.)
-Sticking to a written budget ( we sort of got lazy w/ this during the move and near Peter's birth/hospitalization, etc.)
and most important...
- Making time several times throughout the day to give kisses and hugs to the kiddos (it's embarrassing to admit, but my kids are usually so good to each toher and me that, if I'm not careful, I find myself reacting only to negative behavior. My mom suggested setting a timer and having a hug-and-kiss break every hour or so, and it has been a big help. Again, I'm embarrassed that it slips my mind to do it without help, but this is working for us!)
Anyway, those are the things in the works for the next 90-ish days for us. I'm going to keep telling myself when I want to get off-track, "It's
only 90 days!"

We'll see how it goes!

18 December 2010

Peter the Magnificent

I am home and pumping because my little Peter is in the hospital being treated for meningitis. :(

I'm not exactly sure he HAS meningitis, and neither is the neo-natologist, frankly. But the pediatric infectious disease doc has given that diagnosis, so we will treat it.

The bad news is that he has to have a PICC line and will be in the hospital for 14 days total. But that's the only bad news, really.

The good news (which, on the tiny keyboard on my phone, I always type as "god news". Coincidence, I think not!) is profoundly greater, in number and substance. The good news -- all of Peter's systems look not only good, but wonderful! His white cell count in his blood is perfect, which means this infection is not multiplying. (i.e if he does have the bacteria, it's just hanging out). His breathing is good, his oxygen levels are good. His sleeping is good...

But the most wonderful thing, to me, is that he can be fed "ad lib" meaning whenever-he-wants AND, glory of glories, he's been a really good nurser!!! He opens his mouth wide, latches on almost right away, and then nurses himself to sleep. I LOVE it!!! I think my mammaries are so excited that I might have a little overactive letdown going on. The poor child was gulping as fast as he could the other day and the milk just kept pouring forth.

I cannot describe the joy this gives me! After nursing Annalivia for 14 months, which was such a sweet experience, both Daniel and Emmeliese were my feta-makers -- fed on homemade goat's milk formula. Long-term, they are none-the-worse-for-the-wear, and there were parts of bottle feeding that I enjoyed, namely being able to hand them off to someone else to have a bottle. But I missed breast-feeding. There really is something there that cannot be duplicated in bottle-feeding, regardless of how close one can come. I'm not sure what it is. But that "je ne sais quois" is remarkable.

And I get to experience it again...

Such sweet joy this little one has already brought... :) :)

For a few more pics, click here.

17 December 2010

7 Quick Takes

1. I can't believe that Peter is here. It is so surreal to think about my fourth child being here in this world now. He is beautiful. He is evocative of the other kids and at the same time, he just looks completely like himself. He reminds me of my uncle for whom he is middle-named, and he also reminds me of pictures of Dennis' dad. It's very sweet to look at that little face and contemplate who he will be and who he will resemble and what he'll do and become. I really do love being a momma.

2. Peter is in the NICU. For those not on facebook, he was moved there originally because he was not able to keep his temperature and oxygen up and his respiration rate down. He had a blood culture and lumbar tap which ruled out infection, then he received surfactant to bring his lungs into a bit more maturity. Right now, he is under the bili-lights.

3. I have to go home today. I've decided to believe that Peter is going home today, too. One of my prayers for the last few months has been that we could go home together. I don't know how to explain it, but I feel like God has been asking me to continue to believe that He'll take care of things to make that happen. I'm someone who usually has many thoughts about what may or may not happen and how things may or may not work. But not this time. This time, I feel like God is asking me to abandon some of my "what-if's" and just do some simple (which, as it turns out, is not so simple) trusting. To quote a line from Facing the Giants, "I'm preparing for rain."

4. I am amazed and astonished by how different the C-section experience was for me this time. When Emmeliese was born, she was an emergency C after 20 hours of active labor. Because of the way she was positioned, the docs had to do a classical (vertical) incision on the uterus. They also had to make a classical incision externally, which meant that I had this very painful wound around my belly button. It was so difficult to move around, hold the baby, nurse, etc. This time, my amazing doctor worked really hard to take the incision low on both uterus and belly and oh. my. goodness., what a HUGE difference it has made.

5. I have been reminded over and over again how blessed we were through the experience with Emmeliese and the how the things we endured then have made Peter's birth so much easier. Because of E's history, Peter got antibiotics immediately when he was having trouble breathing instead of waiting for cultures to come back indicating an infection. Because of my experience with the surgery last time, I have known to ask for certain considerations. And...

6. Because of our experience in the NICU last time, we've been able to confront some communication problems brought on by the hospital's move of the NICU into a separate building while the Labor and Delivery ward has stayed where it was. In order to get to the NICU, a mother has to get into a wheelchair and be wheeled through two wards to an elevator, get on the elevator and go down two floors to a skywalk and then follow a circuitous path through another building which involves automatic doors that must have a button pushed on the opposite side of the door than that through which a mother is passing, then proceed into the final building, get back on the elevators, and finally, sign in at the NICU. This process must repeat itself anytime one wants to visit one's baby. And someone else must repeat it anytime one pumps and wants to deliver breastmilk. To say it is ridiculous is a MASSIVE understatement. The accompanying communication difficulties have been frustrating. I will be writing several strongly-worded letters. (Say that a la Gob Bluth. It sounds cooler.) :)

7. I have been so thankful for facebook and the ability to communicate information and, for that matter, hopes and dreams, needs and desires, etc. with lots of people. I have been so moved by the amount of people who are praying for us and our family. I tend to have a lot of inner conflict concerning facebook, but I've been nothing but thankful for it this week.

For more quick takes, see Conversion Diary!

15 December 2010

Peter John

He's here! Peter John Stewart, Monday Dec. 13, 2010, 7 lbs .4 oz, 19 3/4 inches long. A few more pics can be seen here.

07 December 2010

Just in case anyone reads here anymore...

It has been such a busy month or so for our family! We moved into the new house beginning at the first of November, fully intending to take our time and sort through junk/ not move unnecessary things, and instead, as always seems to be the case for me, ended up throwing things in boxes and "just getting it done already!" at the end of the month. One of our pastors let us use his trailer and, rather unsuspectingly, told us he didn't need it "anytime soon". He probably didn't realize that it is a McStew family trait to procrastinate as long as possible, so he MAY be getting back his trailer before Spring. Maybe. And in the midst of last month's craziness, we found out that Peter would be delivered early- a full two weeks earlier than expected. And I got put on "limited activity", which has made me about as helpful as a large walrus with definite opinions on how everything should proceed. I need not mention, I think, how my sainted husband is earning his stars-in-his-crown by the bucketful. :)

What all of this has meant, practically, is that we have a large house full of stuff that is not categorized or sorted, boxes most everywhere, Christmas decorations in our pastor's trailer parked, attractively, next to the house, six inches of snow on the ground, an overworked Daddy, a kindergartner on perpetual fall/ Christmas break, and a baby arriving in 6 days.

BUT- it's all good. We're in the house and I pray we will never, ever have to move again (though if I were God and Miss April let me know that she didn't want to move for another 50 years, I'd think she was just "askin' for it" :) ). Little Peter is doing well so far, and so am I, really. The kids are happy even we still haven't hooked up the tv. My mom has been taking them to her house every day and we wer reminded again of what an amazing fam we have when they all helped w/the move... There are just a lot of gifts in this process.

One of the most lovely, timely gifts is that this whole experience has afforded me yet another opportunity to reflect in this Advent time on how God took on human flesh and came into this messy, disorganized, not-at-all-ready-for-Him world and how He will come again - into the world, into my heart, and into the hearts of my family. I really wish this Christmas He would find the arrangements at the McStew house less like a stable than they will probably be, but I'm taking comfort in the fact that he WILL find a family waiting for Him. And in the end, the dusty, unorganized, chaotic chambers of our hearts will be His dwelling place again.
Even so, Lord Jesus, quickly come!
Hope you are having a blessed Advent. I'll try to post here after Peter is born next Monday!

18 October 2010

School -- a mid-term evaluation

It is now the third week of October, and we have been "doing school" for about 8 weeks now, more or sometimes less, successfully. In public school, we always had a 9-week evaluation as students. I thought that was a wise idea and that I should do an evaluation of what is and is not working for us in this first year of homeschool.

:: Learning (and teaching) style -- I think so far that I've discovered that both Annalivia and I are interest-led schoolers, at heart. She does really well with learning that she initiates. She does ok with things I ask her to do; she's not resentful or difficult, it's just that she really sparkles with things that she wants to do. And, thankfully, she has wanted to do something with pretty much every subject. It's just a matter of figuring out what really excites her about each.

:: Sonlight Curriculum -- While I love the idea of Sonlight, I've found that, in practice, it's just not a great fit for me. I really like the literature-centric approach in that most of our learning can take place doing something (reading together) that we all like to do normally, but I think I might be more of unit-study homeschooling parent. So far, I like Sonlight's selections, but, for my interests, I want more integrated history, science, art, etc. I am thankful for the teacher's guide that details a schedule, but again, it doesn't really work for us. Most of the time I spend with it is working on adapting it. I think we'll use something else next year.

:: Reading -- Annalivia is doing very well at basic blending. The readers that came with our Sonlight program are very good -- simple and easy with illustrations reminiscent of the Frog and Toad series. And these little books also have a story line, which is really something when they only use words ending in -at and -ad! She likes to read them and does best when I let her initiate the reading and just sit by her to help, if necessary.

:: Spelling -- I bought the Spell to Write and Read program and really like the concept of it, but in execution, it does not fit us very well. Yet. I have thought about it, prayed about it, turned it over in my head a thousand times, and have come to the conclusion that I need to let Annalivia learn to read the way that she is already learning and use the SWR program in a grade or two. I think this may mean that she'll have to re-learn some things, but holding her back from reading to try to get her to work on this program is just creating frustration in both of us.

:: Math -- We started Math-U-See Alpha and I decided we needed to go back and do Primer. I haven't even gotten it out, though, since we are moving soon and I'd really like formal math to be something we do every day. Instead, we are working on writing numbers on the white board, which is just about the most thrilling thing that Annalivia and Daniel get to do, in their opinions, and identifying the plus and equal signs and talking about what they mean. And I'm trying to work informal math lessons into life more frequently.

:: Handwriting -- This and Reading are the two areas at which Annalivia really excels. She LOVES learning cursive handwriting and I love the program (New American Cursive) and the accompanying computer program (Start Write) that allows me to customize pages for her to practice writing. She's learning to write her name in cursive and is doing really well, though having a bit of trouble with the double n's. Dennis was telling me that the n's were always hard for him, too. :) Annalivia loves to practice "pretty" writing. I think it appeals to her artistic side.

:: Bible -- The Bible curriculum that came with our Sonlight core is the Egermeier's Children's Bible. Annalivia and Daniel really like stories from it, and I like reading the stories to them. The stories are relatively short, descriptive, and the interpretive details are good, or at worst, benign. The cd of memory verses, is, frankly, lacking, and a little boring. And, other than making a timeline, there's nothing else included in the program. Personally, I'd like a little more.
We have supplemented the Egermeier Bible with watching the new What's in the Bible dvd's from Phil Vischer. We love, love, LOVE them! They are funny and engaging and very informative. Annalivia and Daniel can tell you that the Septuagint sounds like a sneeze, but is also "a copy of a copy" of the Bible, and they know the definitions of "salvation" (to be saved or rescued from danger) and "redeemed" (to have your debt paid by someone) and they can apply those things to Jesus. And they know the patriarchs, and are learning the judges, and are fascinated by pirates in hot-air balloons who have to use the bathroom. I think this series is worth every penny we will spend on it.

:: Science, Art, Music, and the rest -- This stuff is easy for me to come up with and work on with the kids. Annalivia and Daniel love to draw and paint and things like nature study, art journaling, drawing still-lifes, dancing to music, singing hymns... that's all just part of things here.

Things to think about on the way forward

:: The reason for it all -- Sometimes I need to remind myself that the reasons we homeschool are to experience learning about the life with which God has blessed us, in the family with which God has blessed us, using the gifts which which God has blessed us. We don't homeschool to meet state acheivement test requirements or justify how we spend our days or compete with peers (mine or the kids'). I can get out of focus so easily. I need to tattoo these things backwards on my forehead so I read them in the mirror each morning, you know? :) There's a lot of grace in this...

:: Impending events -- the upcoming arrival of Peter, the complications I've experienced from my previous c-section (serious muscle separation resulting in three hernia necessitating "limited activity" from me) and the moving into of the house (we get to start moving next week, hurrah!!), not to mention the holidays, are going to change how we do things even more. I think we're going to cut to bare-bones (Bible, reading practice, handwriting on-demand only) until after Peter is born. Or, on the other hand, we may do a couple of unit studies on Thanksgiving and Advent. I could get excited about those.

:: Incorporation of Daniel (and Emmeliese) -- So far, Daniel has been in peripheral attendance, but he is getting interested in "doing school" too and I need to start working with him more intentionally. Emmeliese LOVES to draw when the other kids are drawing, and needs to be incorporated...somehow. Otherwise, she's just a screechy pest. :)

:: Curriculum -- I'm going to be deconstructing the Sonlight core and trying to figure out how to put together something a little more interesting to all of us. And I need to plan to attend some sort of curriculum preview/ homeschooling fair this year. Extensive internet research is helpful. To a point. Then, I just need to spend some time with some materials and find out what works. And doesn't.

30 September 2010

Late night update

It's after 11 p.m. here and I have a baby boy inside me who has hiccups, I think. Only they are the kind of hiccups that apparently cause his entire body to flail rhythmically against my bladder. I should be asleep. But feeling like I need to pee every 30 seconds is not conducive to sleep, regardless of how tired I happen to be. So, I sit here. Very awake.
I have been working for a bit on trying to begin crocheting a rag rug. I bought a bunch of sheets from the thrift store today for $1.25 and ripped them into strips. I was inspired to do so after looking for rugs for the bedrooms of the new house and realizing how bloody expensive those things are, even second-hand. I am sure I'll be able to make a couple of decent rug for the girls' room and the nursery for less than $10 each. If my wrist holds out, that is. Right now, my largest hook is a K hook. I think I need at least an M. My hand is cramped from pulling the fabric so hard. On the plus side, though, the rug is nice and tight. On the negative side, I may not be able to use my right hand tomorrow.
I'm doing my crochet while listening to Andrew Peterson. I am so, so, so excited to have found a Christian artist, other than Fernando, whom I absolutely adore!! I love Peterson's voice, his melodies, his harmonies, the way his albums are produced, his lyrics... everything. Love it. I think Counting Stars is my favorite album, but that might be just because I've listened to it most. It's just so good!
I really should be asleep. We had a mostly good day which, once again, had a bit of friction in it today. This happens to us most Thursdays and I think it's because we just don't have enough sleep/ rest/ recovery from the night before. We have a great kids' program at our church on Wednesday nights. Annalivia was involved in it last year and really enjoyed it and Dennis ran the sound for the program. But this year, Dennis is working on the house, so Daniel, Emmeliese and I have been taking Annalivia to the church and then helping with the nursery care. We get home late about 8:30 on Wednesday nights and get in bed by 9:30, usually, but I think it's kicking our rears. I'm considering having us take a break until after Christmas. In fact, I think I've mostly decided that we need to take the break. I hate to leave behind such a good thing, but I know we need to choose the better thing, which is peace between us all at a pretty hectic time. I just need to get up the courage to tell the pastor that I'm leaving him without a nursery attendant.
Tomorrow, we are going to go to the apple orchard, I think, with my niece and pick the last of our fall apples. I've been canning applesauce and apple butter and apple/cherry jelly, but I think I need to get some apples and make some applesauce to just freeze and eat in the next few weeks. My children love homemade applesauce so much; they will eat quarts of it at a time if I let them, which I do since I don't add sugar to it and the fiber in it tends to help their little digestive systems. I'd like to have some available over the next weeks without breaking into the canned stuff until later in the winter.
Anyway, I best go to bed. In just a few minutes, it will be the first day of October, which means 4 weeks until we move into our house, 8 weeks until Thanksgiving, 11ish weeks of pregnancy and 12 weeks until Christmas. Goodness, that's a lot to do.