Monday, February 1, 2016

Recipe for Learning



In the waiting room at the doctor's office, Alia, age seven, watched a cooking show on the tv near the kids' area. I missed the first five minutes of one of the segments while I was checking her in, and as the chef was finishing up a dish, I commented that it looked really tasty. Alia asked if she could make it for dinner sometime, and I was excited at the idea. On the way home, we stopped for the ingredients we didn't have at home, but needed - spinach and mushrooms - and planned to make the dish the next night.


The next evening, Alia cut mushrooms, chopped spinach, delegated the garlic mincing to me, and put pasta on to boil. She recreated a wonderful spinach, mushroom, chicken, and pasta dish quite successfully,  It was such a big hit with nearly everyone in our family, she ended up making in two more times during the following week.


We homeschool. Actually, we unschool, life-learn, or whatever you want to call it. Part of our learning philosophy includes the fact that children will retain information in which they are interested, especially when learned in real-life scenarios. This becomes knowledge. Add in our discussions about how things affect ourselves and others, differing philosophies, or the morality of things, and this knowledge becomes wisdom. This, rather than cramming tons of information into our children's minds in order to meet some predetermined list of what must be learned by a specific age or at a specific time.

In a recent discussion with an acquaintance about homeschooling, she asked how my kids could possibly learn if we didn't make them memorize things. Facts and figures are, according to her, integral in life. I asked her to please tell me how she used the date of the start of the Civil War, the names of the presidents from George Washington to the present, and the names of the capitols of every state in the U.S.A. for something constructive recently.  I received a blank stare in reply. She admitted she doesn't even use her times tables, which she stressed so much about memorizing in elementary school, because whenever she needs to do math, she uses the calculator on her phone.

My response included that my children do math in their heads, including hundreds and thousands, with ease because they enjoy playing games like Magic the Gathering that require quick calculations. They manipulate fractions when baking and cooking, are familiar with where all the states in the US are located due to a game called Mad Dash, and know a fair amount about science and history through museum and science center visits, visits to historic sites, and discussions with people who lived through major and minor historical happenings in our relatively recent past. My children also memorize lines for theatrical performances in which they choose to participate, and songs for church choir.

And they watch a cooking show on tv, memorize the ingredients and steps on the spot, have the real life cooking experience due to years of helping or being in charge in the kitchen, and recreate the dish with ease and minimal help - no recipe required.




Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Dary

...dary!


Twenty years! We may not be doing something completely legendary as I suggested we should last year, but we'll make something happen eventually. Remicade infusion day isn't the best day to celebrate an anniversary, or much of anything! A date night and tattoos will be a good start, if the weather cooperates this weekend. Perhaps we'll take things slowly and make it a legendary year, instead of one legendary celebration. 

Twenty years seems so long, but so short at the same time. 

Year one, we lived in a two family house in Waterbury. We went to the bar after work to hang out with friends and play pool. We got tattoos. We were 21 and had no idea what we were doing.


Year two found us moving to a tiny house near a lake in Watertown.  I got my tongue pierced the same day my sister announced her pregnancy with her first child. We were 22 and had no idea what we were doing.

Year three, we were overjoyed to be pregnant, then devastated by miscarriage. The love and care with which you comforted me through the following weeks and months made me love you all the more. That the year ended with the birth of our firstborn son, Alexander, balancing one of the lowest times in my life with one of the most miraculous.  We were new parents and had no idea what we were doing.
 


Year four we grew as a family. We looked at a house and had keys in hand two weeks later. With the house came another pregnancy, announced again at Thanksgiving, a surprise to all.

Five brought us Zachary's birth, a new community of friends, and challenges of parenting two children under the age of two. We most definitely had no idea what we were doing, but we had lots of fun anyway.
 


Our sixth year provided new work for me as a church secretary and, as a result, it was amazing to witness your loving care for our baby and toddler in my brief absence twice a week. What a surprise when we once again made a Thanksgiving pregnancy announcement - and a surprise to you before that, when you answered the sight of the boys' "big brother" and "big big brother" with "as long as it's not a girl."



Seven dawned with a special birthday surprise for you - immediately before you needed to leave for work - of a tiny little dress, as my ultrasound that morning indicated that Alex's exclamations of "it's a girl baby" were correct. Just minutes old, Haley had you wrapped around her little finger as she snuggled on your chest. It was heartwarming to see how much you'd grown as a father, no longer so afraid of breaking the baby, and insisting on your own sling in which to carry her.
 
Eight and nine, quite frankly, are complete blurs. As parents of three very young children, we seemed much of the time to be treading water as we struggled to get enough sleep, pay the bills, manage a household, and as my health declined. I'm not sure we knew what we were doing, but did the best with what we had. We dipped our toes into homeschooling, enjoyed hikes, Tuesday Night Sunday School, and various playgroups. 


Shortly after we rang in our tenth year, we found out I was pregnant, totaled a car, and I lost my job due to lack of funds with which to pay me, all in the matter of a week. I was in tears for days. You helped me to know that we would get through it somehow. How you made it through my pregnancy hormones, OCD, and need to vent about how helpless and hopeless I felt during those first few weeks, I have no idea, but thank you for loving me through it. Thank you also for not expressing your fears about the logistics of homebirth until they failed to come to fruition when Coren was born, all 10lbs 14oz of him, in a kiddie pool in our dining room.
   


Eleven and twelve years brought many challenges and surprises. My health had its ups and downs. Renee lived with us for a while, which was both a blessing and a challenge. We relearned that she and you should never live in the same house. Ever. Even though you are friends. We were shocked when a pregnancy test revealed that I did not have food poisoning, but morning sickness. Twenty-three weeks of morning sickness. 



Year thirteen seems a fitting year for the homebirth of our incredibly unique fifth child. Before the year ended, Alia earned the nickname Dangergirl and your suspicions that this child would be scary were confirmed.


The following seven years have run together in my mind as a rollercoaster of emotions, physical challenges, and diagnoses mixed in with some of the best times we've had in our marriage. I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism, miscarried twins, was diagnosed with celiac, psoriatic arthritis, ankylosing spondylits, and autoimmune hepatitis. I was in and out of a wheelchair, on and off crutches. We found Epoch Arts and got involved in our amazing homeschool co-op. We finally made it to Camp Calumet and found our second home, which we frequent as often as possible. We added various "part time" children to our family. 

We have watched our children grow and mature. We have moved out of the breastfeeding, diapers, child-proofing, need to find childcare if we hoped to leave the house child-free stage to the can leave children at home and go to the movies stage. This Summer we'll enjoy a child-free week at Calumet while all five children are in Resident Camp. Awe- all of it. 


Through it all, no matter my health, my weight, my abilities, or my crazy ideas, you have loved me, supported me, and dealt with all the insanity I've thrown at you, both the bad kind and the good. I still don't think we have any idea what we're doing, but we seem to be having a good time whatever we're doing.

It seems to me that the past twenty years have been quite legen- don't have to wait for it anymore because our anniversary is today - dary! I'm looking forward to another legendary twenty years.

I love you, my honey!

Always remember...

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

I Hate It


Hate. It's such a strong word. Such an overused word.

I hate lima beans.

I hate this weather.

I hate doing the dishes.

I find it difficult to believe that people have intense and passionate dislike of lima beans. What did lima beans ever do to them? I dislike lima beans, but hate? No. (And I love doing dishes!)

I see more and more hate on social media.

Hate towards refugees. Hate toward Muslims. Hate toward anyone who doesn't agree with the person's opinions or agenda.

Not disagreement. Not dislike. Hate.

Someone hating a fellow U.S. citizen so much they would like to see them leave the country.
Someone hating a group of people fleeing from violence and persecution so much they don't want them as neighbors.
Someone hating a celebrity so much they suggest she should be shot in the head.
Someone hating a politician so much, they suggest he should be hanged.

Hate.

And it's not one person spewing hatred. It's memes of hatred being shared by thousands. 

With all this hate, can we please be a little kinder to the dishes? (Doing dishes really isn't that bad. Really. Warm water, bubbles, time to contemplate life or nothing at all.)

But seriously - when did we become a culture of hate? Have I missed it all this time, or have I been too blinded by the love I feel for fellow human beings and the light shining from the people with whom I choose to surround myself?

I could say that I hate all the hate in this world, but that would be wrong. I don't understand hate. I don't like how hate feels or what it does to people physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I do not have room in my life for hate.

I do understand love, compassion, mercy, forgiveness, and grace.

I don't hate my abusers. I pray for them. I forgive them. I feel compassion for them in their brokenness.

I don't hate my illness. I give thanks for the gifts it gives me, for the lessons it teaches me, and for the inner strength it has shown me.

I don't hate people who are different from me. I don't hate people who believe different things than me. I don't hate people with whom I radically disagree or people who hate me.


I embrace diversity.
I pray for peace and grace to replace hatred in the hearts of others.
I don't let others' hate stop my forgiveness and love.

Please, spread LOVE not hate. Steep your spirit in PEACE. Let FORGIVENESS speak louder than anger. Exude GRACE.


Friday, January 1, 2016

Growing Into the New Year



With the dawn of 2016, it's time once again for me to choose my word for the year.

In 2016...

I hope to grow more fully into the person I strive to be ...more patient, present, and productive... healthier, more open to life's joys and blessings. 

I endeavor to grow in my faith, in my relationships, and in my creative pursuits. 

I plan to cultivate an atmosphere of learning for my children, encouraging them to explore new things and expand their horizons - and to delve deeper into the things that nourish their souls.

I will grow space in my house and in my life through making better use of the space we have, letting go of more possessions to make room for easier living, and to pare down obligations to only those commitments that sustain my spirit. 

This year I plan to grow as a person, as a mother, as a wife, as a friend, and in all that I do. I hope to grow a life that is in tune with my visions for the future ... for myself and for my family. 




Thursday, December 31, 2015

Cleaning Out


As I prepare for the New Year, I like the idea of starting it fresh. Time to do some cleaning out. 

It started before Christmas with the Great Room Switch. We further finished the partially finished room in the basement for our fifteen year old son who just wants to be able to get away from people. Siblings, mostly, which is completely understandable at times. This required a basement clean-out before we could even begin.

As Zachary packed up his stuff, our thirteen year old daughter packed up hers. As he was moving out of his old room, Haley was moving in - and out of a room shared with her 10 year old brother and 7 year old sister. 

They ran into a major roadblock: what to do with the books. I helped them sort through hundreds of books. We bagged and boxed close to five hundred books from the two bedrooms for donation. A couple hundred books remain on bookshelves ... those to be read, and those to be read again.

This inspired me to sort through the craft stuff that has taken over our dining room and spilled over into bins and bags at the bottom of the stairs. I consolidated to just what will fit on designated shelves and made up a bin of materials to bring to homeschool co-op to share with teachers and parents and whomever will make use of them.

I next will move on to the underbed  bins, my nightstand, the bookcase in the living room, and the fridge. Ooooh, how I hate cleaning out the fridge. I don't bend so well these days, and no one else wants to take on the task, so it's up to me to discover the various science experiments going on in the back of the bottom shelf and to open the containers we've all been too frightened to investigate.

As I do the physical cleaning, I do a sort of mental and emotional cleaning as well. Making space in my house helps me make space in my thoughts for how to better live my life. Getting rid of the physical clutter helps me deal with my emotional clutter as well.

I take joy in entering the new year after a good cleaning out of house, mind, and spirit. 

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Ponder


"Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.

Luke 2:11-19

My favorite part of this reading isn't the angel's proclamation, nor is it the shepherd's haste in going to see this miraculous thing. It's not that things were as the shepherds were told or that they spread the word and amazement. 

It is this: "Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart."

There are so many things to treasure on Christmas Day! The celebration of the Birth is enough. Time with family and friends can be wonderful. The gifts, the food, the music - what's not to love?

But when the day is done, do you take time to treasure all these new memories, all these magnificent things, how great a Gift we received, and ponder them in your heart? Perhaps tonight you can do just that ... reflect on the Love-tinged moments of this holiest of days. 


Make Room


And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria. So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city.
Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child. So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
Luke 2:1-7

She birthed God, and laid him in an feeding trough, because there was no room for him in the upper room of their relative's house. 

Mary and Joseph made room for Jesus. They made due with what they had, knowing it would be enough. They didn't say, "Hey, this is GOD we're birthing here. Give us the best room. God is coming!" Mary gave birth in humble conditions, made use of what was there. 

Christmas Eve for most comes with a flurry of activity from last minute preparations to family gatherings. Have you made room for Jesus today?

There are last minute things to do, I know! Maybe just one more trip to the store! Or could you make due with what you have? Trust that it will be enough?




Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Wanderer


The birth of Jesus took place like this. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. Before they came to the marriage bed, Joseph discovered she was pregnant. (It was by the Holy Spirit, but he didn’t know that.) Joseph, chagrined but noble, determined to take care of things quietly so Mary would not be disgraced.
While he was trying to figure a way out, he had a dream. God’s angel spoke in the dream: “Joseph, son of David, don’t hesitate to get married. Mary’s pregnancy is Spirit-conceived. God’s Holy Spirit has made her pregnant. She will bring a son to birth, and when she does, you, Joseph, will name him Jesus—‘God saves’—because he will save his people from their sins.” This would bring the prophet’s embryonic sermon to full term:
Watch for this—a virgin will get pregnant and bear a son;They will name him Immanuel (Hebrew for “God is with us”).Matthew 1:18-23

God is with us.

She has always been a wanderer. When she was just fourteen months old or so, and her siblings were supposed to be keeping an eye on her in the Fellowship Hall while I made a salad in the kitchen in at church, when she wandered off. She walked down a hallway; turned left; walked down a long, dark hallway; up some stairs; turned the corner and went up another flight of stairs, walked a little way and turned right, into the sanctuary. Our Pastor found her, standing serenely in the dark sanctuary, completely at peace. He returned her downstairs to us just after I asked the children where she was and they started looking for her. 

She made friends wherever she went. She would get distracted by a new, usually quite a bit older than her, friend in the grocery store, and walk along with them instead of staying with me. I would often have to retrieve her, reminding her that she needed to stay near me. Her response was always the same: "You are always with me."

I think by that she meant that she was confident that I would always help, protect, and be there for her, even if she wandered a little bit away from me. When she was a bit older, and still a wanderer, I asked her where she got her self-confidence from. Her three word answer seemed wiser than her four years, "You and God." When asked to explain, her answer was again, simple, "You trust me. I trust God." She knew that I trusted that she could do things for and by herself. She trusted that God is always with her. 

She's seven now. If she's comfortable in the space, whether it's at church, homeschool co-op, or the thrift store ... and mostly even when she's not ...  she'll still wander, she'll still make friends, and she remains confident that both God and I have her back. 

God with us. How would our behavior change if we remembered these three words in all that we say and do...even, and especially, when we wander a bit too far from God? 


Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Teenage Pregnancy



A teenage girl sits alone, praying the man she loves won't be angry, won't leave her, when he finds out the burden and the blessing she carries - when she reveals to him that she's pregnant. The baby is not his. She fears he will, as most men would, take back the promises he's made and leave her to deal with her situation on her own.

He considers leaving at first. Instead he stays.

The two journey forward together, despite the reactions of family, friends, and neighbors. Their love for each other, for God, and for the child she carries prevails.

I wasn't a teenager when I was pregnant with Alex, who turns 17 today. I was eight days away from being 24, in fact. My first day home alone with him, however, I felt like I was too young and handed too huge of a responsibility.

We brought Alex "home" to my parents' house on Christmas Eve, so that we could introduce him to family and join in the festivities. We brought him home to our house on Christmas Day. What a wonderful gift - my firstborn son! It was a long nine months, worrying that I'd lose him as I had two before him. Praying for his safe entry into the world. Preparing for his birth and for Christmas at the same time.


It must have been a long nine months for the pregnant teen and her partner, and in that time, so much to do. There was a baby for whom to prepare, a pilgrimage to make, their own hearts to prepare to receive this blessed child. 

How do you prepare to give birth to God? To parent God? How should we, now, prepare for the same birth?
Mary sees an angel and is scared. The angel says "Do not be afraid!" Then the angel says "You will have a baby and he will be the Son of God and you will name him Jesus (or did the other angel say that to Joseph?). Mary asks "How could this be?" The angel tells her that the Holy Spirit will make her pregnant. Mary says that she'll be God's servant and do what God wants. Then the angel leaves.
Luke 1:26-38 according to seven year old Alia

Could you have said yes? Could you have made room in your life for this huge responsibility?

Can you, now, make room in your life, in your heart, in your mind, to carry Jesus within you?  To birth His love, kindness, and generosity this Christmas? Always? 



_________________
I promised myself that this year I wouldn't write an embarrassing post about the birthday boy, as he is now a year away from adulthood. I, however, didn't promise myself I wouldn't embed links to other potentially embarrassing birthday posts in this one, so it's not my fault if you click the links in the paragraph referencing Alex, right?

Monday, December 21, 2015

Thunder in the Desert!


While Jesus was living in the Galilean hills, John, called “the Baptizer,” was preaching in the desert country of Judea. His message was simple and austere, like his desert surroundings: “Change your life. God’s kingdom is here.”
John and his message were authorized by Isaiah’s prophecy:

Thunder in the desert!
Prepare for God’s arrival!
Make the road smooth and straight! 
Matthew 3:1-3

"Thunder in the desert!" I think that's going to be my new exclamation. Drop something on my foot? "Thunder in the desert!" Discover something amazing? "Thunder in the desert!" I like that. 

What I'm not so sure I like is the "Change your life" part. Change my life. For what? In preparation for God's arrival? But how? How do I change my life to make the road smooth and straight?

Maybe I need to get obstacles out of my way. Perhaps I need to... to...

Let go of anger, stress, and worry.

Clear my schedule of non-essentials - of things that interfere with preparing my heart and home for Jesus' birth.

Spend time with those I love...real, focused, uninterrupted, in the moment time. 

Take time to be quiet, pray, and listen.

Get a tattoo ...err... do something nice for myself amidst doing so much for so many others.

Take to heart what I've been practicing all year - that I am enough. That my preparations, whatever they turn out to be, will be enough.

Go to worship. Read by Bible. Pray. Center myself in Advent. 

Wait, not with impatience, but with anticipation.

Open my heart to Love ... to what it feels like to receive the true Gift of Christmas.

__________________________





And yes ... I did get a tattoo ... at a nine year old's birthday party yesterday (what is my life???)... it was my Christmas gift from my husband:
The heart with LOVE written in it is a copy of part of a crayon drawing my older daughter did a couple years ago that I adore. The Bible verse is one that speaks to me and I've encountered over and over this year. The LOVE is also something I wanted to get for a while after discovering TWLOHA (to write love on her arms). The words are sketched, imperfect, as a reminder to my OCD self to embrace imperfection.