Tuesday, December 31, 2013

It's Time

Sitting in silent shock, I wonder where it has all gone, how I got here, how so much could happen in such a short time. Visions of it all swirl around me as I try to pin down a moment or two that might offer clarity, understanding, or acceptance. 

Another year is gone. Just gone. 

The new year is upon me, and I feel as if so much time has slipped through my fingers over this past year - time that could have been spent nurturing and nourishing my children's minds and spirits; time better spent getting myself healthier; time I should have spent letting everyone around me know how much I love and appreciate them. Time eaten by exhaustion, pain, medical appointments, and concentrating too much on the wrong things at times.

This coming year, things need to change. I need to refocus. 

This year I seek dynamic change in my life. I will strive to be a better steward with my time, spending more time in the moment with my children; with my husband that is not based on talking about day-to-day functioning of our family and household; with my friends, whether it be supporting, laughing, crying, or just hanging out with them; and doing the things I love, that nourish and nurture my emotional, spiritual, and physical well-being. 

It's time. 

New Year's Eve 2012

Monday, December 30, 2013


It's my birthday. My thirty-ninth birthday. I have a house full of kids ranging in ages from five to fifteen. Five of them are mine. Twenty years ago, when I was nineteen and first met my husband, I could have told you that I'd have a house full of kids - yet I sit here, stunned, that I am mother to five children. I'm just as equally stunned that I've been married for going on eighteen years, am homeschooling my kids, and am living so far out of the box as I knew it twenty years ago that I can no longer see that way of life as a possibility. I love where life has brought me. 

And yet, as I sit and reflect, hiraeth overwhelms me. I yearn to feel the feeling of home I felt as a child. I long to revisit times and places in my past - those great ordinary days with loved ones - which I should have appreciated more at the time. Perhaps I just crave the feeling of being taken care of ... like those elementary school days I would feign illness just so my Grampy could come over and take care of me. He always made me ring-o-noodle soup, brought me endless cups of water, and played cards with me. I could use some of that right now. 

hiraeth(n.) homesickness for a home to which you cannot return, perhaps a home that never was; or a nostalgia, yearning, and/or grief for a time or lost places in your past

Someone recently asked me what I wanted for my birthday. "I don't usually get anything for my birthday, really," I replied, "but in my dreams, I'd love a hot tub, a freezer full of good food that's ready to heat and eat, and some real time off including someone to take care of me." 

I think part of it is wanting some relief from the pain and the exhaustion that is life with multiple autoimmune diseases. I want ease, not disease. I want rest. Real rest. Don't worry, everything is taken care of, you just relax and do whatever you feel like and let me know if you need anything kind of rest. Able to take enough pain meds to actually feel good and peace of mind that everyone I love is happily entertained and cared for rest. 

But not today. Today my husband is home sick from work and I'm not feeling too hot myself. And so I'll run the few errands that need to be run, then take a nice, long, hot shower and hop into some fresh pjs. I'll read and watch movies and relax with my family. It will be wonderful, as is this lovely crazy life I have. 

Friday, December 27, 2013

The Best Gifts

I got the best gifts for Christmas this year ... and they started coming before Christmas Eve.

On the 23rd,  because he couldn't contain his enthusiasm anymore, I got a BEAUTIFUL patchwork skirt made by my husband. The reason I was Kicked Out a couple times. And not only did I get the handcrafted skirt, but time to myself not once, but twice. And not only that, but I got a husband who for days on end exclaimed how excited he was for me to open my gift and couldn't possibly hold out one more day for me to open it on Christmas Eve.

I received one of my five-and-a-half-year-old daughter's favorite dolls, Jett Mae, as a sharing gift, just because she wanted to share with me something she loves so dearly.

I received the gift of music at worship, in the car, at home, in church choir, sung by me, by my kids, in Christmas movies, and in flashmob Youtube videos. And I got to sing with the cutest member of our church choir, who also happens to be my daughter.

A visit to my ninety-four year old grandmother proved to be a wonderful blessing. The look of pure joy at the sight of all five of my children - her great-grandchildren - made my entire year. 

I got to give my husband most legendary gifts ... a stealth ninja squirrel and corresponding magnet; a fabulous shirt; Magic the Gathering Cards (and apparently among them a mythic rare); stickers for such awesomeness as Puzzles, Metro News 1, Ranjit's Transportation Services, MacLaren's, and Robin Sparkles Mall Tour 1993; and a ducky tie. The ducky tie. (We may have a somewhat unhealthy obsession with really like HIMYM.)

A somewhat unexpected gift was the joy on my children's faces when they opened their gifts from my husband and I - "sleeping blankets" we (ok, my husband) sewed from two large pieces of super soft fleece. Owls for Haley, skulls for Alia, snakes for Coren, and different color tye-dye for Zachary and Alex. They climbed in and or wrapped themselves up in them right away. 

My kids received their "favorite Christmas afternoon" gifts - video games for the teen boys, fish bowl and accessories for the eleven year old girl, LOTS of Legos for the eight-and-a-half-year-old and a dissection kit and date with Gramma to go see Bodies Revealed at the CT Science Center for the five-and-a-half-year-old. Yes, you read that correctly. A dissection kit. She's obsessed with it and can't wait to use it. 

But for me, the best gift was time. Time with my grandmother. Time with my husband, my kids, my parents, my sister and her family, my best friend/adopted sister, my aunt, my church family. Time to focus on the joy of the Birth. Time to wrap myself in the warmth of God's love for all of us. 

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Wrong About Christmas

You have unwrapped your gifts. You've kinda sorta maybe cleaned up the mess. You are enjoying your gifts, sharing holiday related photos online, and living off of leftovers. Jesus is resting peacefully in the manger. Your extended family has left the building. It's time to go back to work, back to real life. Christmas is over. 

But it's not. If you think Christmas is over, you're wrong. Christmas has just begun.

There are twelve days of Christmas, just like the song says. They start on Christmas Day - the First Day of Christmas, and end on Epiphany, the Twelfth Day of Christmas. Just as my family loves to celebrate Advent to the fullest, we also continue to celebrate Christmas in its entirety. 

And no, it's not just another excuse for this admitted Christmas music and movie addict to feed her addiction - it's an essential part of our Christmas journey, culminating, for our family, in our church's Epiphany Pageant. 

But I have a problem this year. Last year I had devotionals and activities for every day of Advent and Christmas set up before Thanksgiving. This year, I took care of Advent and Christmas Day, but was remiss in the preparation of eleven days' worth of Christmas-y joy, thanksgiving, and celebration. What's a Mama to do? 

Perhaps this year we will spend the eleven remaining days giving gifts of some sort, since on Day One, Christmas Day, we received so many wonderful gifts from family and friends, as well as the Greatest Gift - His Love incarnate. 

I step into the season of Christmas in joyful anticipation of giving. 

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Last Firsts

There was a last first in our family today. 

When you have kids, life is full of firsts ... their first step, their first word, their first wiggly tooth. Having five kids, we've gone through firsts times five.

Today something hit me when our youngest lost her first tooth. 


She's the last of the kids to have a first time losing a tooth. She was the last one of my kids to take her first steps, to say her first word, and so many other things. While she was having these other firsts, I wasn't thinking about how they were the last firsts. I have to admit it's a bit bittersweet. 

At the same time our eldest just turned Fifteen - a year away from the possibility of a driver's license. Perhaps our first to drive, to get a job, to move out. Crazy, thinking driving lessons and baby teeth all in the same moment. 

How many firsts are already behind us? How many await us? The children are all growing up much too quickly. Time is slipping quickly and quietly past. 

But oh, the joy in that moment and in all those other last firsts. I'll continue to enjoy them as they come. 

Monday, December 23, 2013

Awake! Awake

It must be the lack of sleep. Last night seemed endless - both myself and a child awake with too much pain. Restless sleep led to restless mind, and I find myself grasping for firm ground, trying not to sink into the darkness that threatens to smother my weary self.

Entering the sanctuary, I find it difficult to catch my breath, to find my center. Longing for something I just can't get a handle on, I do my best to settle into my seat. 

And then the words penetrate my mind, my heart, my soul, hitting me at my core, planting my spirit firmly in God. 
Awake, Awake, and meet the new morn, for angels herald its dawning. Sing out your joy, for soon he is born, behold, the child of our longing.
On this fourth Sunday of Advent; on the morning after the longest night; just two days before Christmas Eve I long for light, and for the Light, to come. 
...music to heal the broken soul and hymns of loving kindness...
Ah, yes, the music - the music, especially of this season, to heal my soul, to brighten my spirit with words of compassion and love. 
Rejoice, rejoice, take heart in the night, though dark the winter and cheerless, the rising sun shall crown you with light; be strong and loving and fearless. Love be our song and love our prayer and love our endless story; may God fill every day we share and bring us at last into glory. 
After this, the longest Solstice night, my soul needed to be awakened. Images of the rising sun set before me to remind me that the daylight that feeds my mood will only get more plentiful, and of the Son whose birth brings great and bountiful Light to nourish my spirit.

[ Quotes from Awake! Awake, and Greet the New Morn by Marty Haugen]

Sunday, December 22, 2013


Dear Newly Minted Fifteen Year Old,

It is time again for the obligatory embarrass the teenager mushy blog post professing my great love for you ... or for just being goofy ... or a little of both. Thanks for the great photos I've been able to get of you, by the way. They're very helpful to this post. 

There is no way you are fifteen years old. That would make me ...... old .... and I'm not that old. It would also make you oh so very close to sixteen years old, and to consider the ramifications of such a thing is just insane. 

Where did the time go? Are you some sort of time-sucking alien being who makes the years go by much more quickly than they used to? Before you were born, time didn't pass nearly as quickly. In fact, I quite vividly remember the two weeks before you were born feeling like they took longer than fifteen years since your birth. 

You are growing into quite a taller than me young man, which I didn't think would ever happen considering how insanely short you were for most of your life. Then again, being taller than me is no huge feat. You are also growing into quite an impressive young man - your love for your siblings radiates through the cracks of your teenage countenance; your sense of humor befits both the Steyer and Talbot sides of the family; your skill at remembering things is nearly unbelievable, but I have a feeling that my lack of being able to remember things might just be directly correlated to your ability to remember the tiniest of details. 

Happy FIFTEENTH Birthday, Alexander! Next year we start counting backwards. 

I love you!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Kicked Out

My husband kicked me out. 

He put a bag of food and my purse in the car and sent me on my way. No kids. Just me. Kicked out of my own house. 

So I went to church and left the food there, putting the cold food in the fridge and leaving the other food on the counter with a note indicating why it was there. 

Seeing as I hadn't yet had coffee, I decided to head next door to get some, and paid for the car behind me as well. Why not add a bit of cheer to someone else's day?

Not knowing what to do with myself, I headed to the only logical places - the liquor store for bourbon and the thrift store to just look around and pass some time.

Too soon, my son was on the phone telling me I could come home. My husband did as much of his project- a Christmas gift for me - as he could manage before needing to make dinner. Joining my family for dinner, a movie, and lots of laughter, I was able to relax knowing that should the impending snowstorm stop me from making it to church, my food contribution for coffee hour was safely tucked away in the church kitchen; I had the ingredients necessary for making of our traditional holiday bourbon balls during the storm; and that my husband loves me so much he's undertaking the making of something that's taking him hours and hours of work.

And since he didn't finish making my gift, he's just going to have to kick me out of the house again. Perhaps I'll treat myself to a movie next time...

Thursday, December 12, 2013

He Sees You When You're Sleeping

He is a thing of nightmares, this zombie Teddy Ruxpin which sat facing the bed in the room in which three of my children slept for three nights over Thanksgiving weekend. I only noticed his eyes - or lack thereof - while packing to leave my grandmother-in-law's house. The song playing in my head at the time ... "He sees you when you're sleeping...he knows when you're awake..." Creepy. 

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Slow Days

Pajama-clad, curled up with kids, computer, and too many words swirling in my head, I wrap myself in the comfort of these slow December days. There's snow and ice outside. My joints cry out at the thought of leaving this cozy, warm sanctuary.  So I stay, wrapped in the warmth of family. 

Days ago, my husband brought downstairs bins and boxes of Christmas decorations. Pulling out only a few items, I had him put them back in the closet. This year we'll keep it simple, concentrating on decorations precious and meaningful. 

Instead of things, we decorate our days with ritual, love, and time spent together. 

We share, again and again, the most sacred of stories - through Bible readings and children's books; through Christmas hymns and seasonal movies centered on the birth of our Savior and the love and joy that we share with others. We adorn our hearts with anticipation as we spiral in towards Christmas Day. 

Today it's candy and movies and snow-play for the kids and reading, reading, reading. It's comfort food and singing and sharing and dreaming. It's cuddles and silliness and just being together. It's all those things that often get overlooked on need-to-get-stuff-done days...while we overlook getting stuff done to accomplish these more important things. We're working on slow and peace and ease and togetherness here. We're making memories and building love. We're sweeping out the cobwebby places in our hearts to prepare them to receive the only Gift that really matters.

Slow days are just what my spirit needs.  

Monday, December 9, 2013

Hurry the Lord is Near

Eyes overcome with tears, a lump forming in my throat, it is difficult to continue singing. Two angelic young voices sing once, then again, "Hurry the Lord is near!" Doing my best to keep it together, I continue singing, "Earth has longed for His approach ..." 
And again, "Hurry the Lord is near!
"Straighten the road, smooth the path..."  
"Hurry the Lord is near!

Visions of recent nightly family gatherings float through my mind. Advent rituals over the past week brought to life the need to prepare the way of the Lord, the longing for His coming, and the smoothing of the path to our hearts so we could fully and joyfully celebrate His birth.

And then - a baptism. The young lady's face glows with the love of God, even more than the light of the candle in her grasp.

And then - my heart leaps as the sight of a young man entering the sanctuary. He rarely, if ever, comes to worship, although we see him often at Sunday School. I am so glad he's here. 

During the next hymn, my mind wanders. If my heart could feel so much joy at the sight of one young man joining in worship, or one child glowing in her new life in Christ, or in the sound of two young girls' radiant voices, what must have been the reactions of those receiving the news of Jesus' birth? 

The pure joy and power of the birth require much preparation - or none at all. 

All that is really needed is an open and ready heart - one open to the wonder and the glory of a humble birth. It's that simple. Some of us need to do a little housekeeping of the heart before that happens.

Amidst the hustle and bustle of holiday preparations going on around us - the shopping; the baking; the decorating; the buying; the wrapping, wrapping, wrapping of present after present - my family instead chooses to slow down and wrap ourselves in the wonder and the Word, in the love and peace of the Advent season. We prepare our hearts, we smooth the path, we keep vigil, we hurry up and wait - for the Lord is near! 

Our Advent is centered in faith and family, 

in worship and sacred stories,

 in sharing our time and our love

and in anticipating the giving of the Greatest Gift. 

So what are you waiting for? Smooth the road! Straighten the path! Hurry the Lord is near!

Thursday, December 5, 2013


I don't like to complain. I feel odd when I mention things that are bothering me physically in more than a "dear family, you need to know how much pain I'm in so you can gauge how much you can jump on me / annoy me / etc. today" kind of way. I feel worse if I give my laundry list of ailments on any given day... today it's a throbbing foot, achy knees, an incredibly sore neck, stiff hands, and that's just for starters. Who the heck wants to hear that - or to be keenly aware of every one of their own aches and pains? And so I don't complain much. And therein lies the problem.

When I don't complain, people seem to assume that I'm feeling good. Well. Pain-free. That I have energy and am moving well. How I wish that was the case! I'm in pain every single day. Every one. Even when my psoriatic arthritis is well under control. No medicine can undo the damage that's been done - the damage that causes pain.

Ever accidentally hit your thumb with a hammer or close your fingers in a door? You know, the kind of pain that makes you utter things that don't normally come out of your mouth and makes you unable to communicate or form a thought other than pain for a moment or two or ten?  I have that type of pain every time I take a step with my left foot these days. Sometimes even when I'm sitting still.

I'm not saying this to complain - I'm saying it for perspective. People who live with chronic pain sometimes have problems being the beaming rays of sunshine they would otherwise be. They sometimes take longer to do things not just because they might move slower, but because concentrating on a task and everything they do takes more energy and focus than normal. Try balancing your bank account while soaking one foot in scalding hot water and the other in ice water and perhaps you'll get an idea of what I mean.

Living with chronic pain does have its quirks. 

When I'm in a lot of pain I have great difficulty with word retrieval, or thought retrieval for that matter. My family is used to this, and thus does not flinch when I say things like "can you please put this in the big giant cooler thingy over there (the chest freezer)" or "Za...Cor...Alex ... whoever you are ... can you please *makes hand motion* to the whatever that thing is called over there." The other day, my answer to the question "what's for dinner?" was "I'll tell you as soon as I figure out what it's called." It was chicken. I came up with cummerbund, Chumbawamba, and cockatiel before I could think of the word chicken. And on the way to Pennsylvania, my husband asked me at what exit we were getting off the highway and I said to him, with great certainty, "26!" A few seconds later, "54?" "52, definitely 52." I'm glad he has a sense of humor - and of direction. 

So please, if you know someone living with chronic pain, don't assume how they feel by taking them at face value. Be patient with them. Laugh with them when they wix their mords. On behalf of people with chronic pain everywhere, I apologize in advance for any grumpiness or absentmindedness that we might inflict upon you, but make no apologies for any of it that comes with even a modicum of entertainment value.

And if you are someone living with chronic pain, be gentle with yourself. Don't take yourself too seriously. Let people know when you need a little extra help or time or wiggle room. Laugh - it reduces pain. But don't pull a muscle laughing like I did the other day. That's a pain.