Two Months of Stories

_MG_3447This sweet guy turned three in November.

I don’t believe in birthday parties with friends and favors anymore.  I tried once, but I seemed to botch everything from the budget to the (lack of) pavilion to the sunburn.  So now Nana reminds me each March and November that there’s a birthday coming up in a week or so, and it’s about time to plan something.  And something always seems to turn out to be dinner and cakes at her house with just us.  I’m so thankful.

Bubba’s only request this time was a piñata.  This request, no doubt, was a direct result of la fiesta fantastica de su amigo Weston a few weeks earlier.  Can I just tell you that Party City has a most impressive assortment of piñatas?  Holy cow…..or pirate or bird or Elmo or….you get the picture.  After wandering the aisles trying to talk myself into spending twenty bucks to buy a cardboard Jake for my kid to decapitate, I finally found the perfect choice….

_MG_3422Not only was it a lot easier for me to stomach the decapitation of this creature, but his remains could serve as a perfect prop the following Monday.  Happy Birthday, Bub!  And Happy Dinovember to me!  : )

P.S. Pro-Parent Tip #1113  No need to buy piñata stuffing candies if you are lucky enough to have a November baby.  Just use the Halloween leftovers.  They’ll never know.

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We had a pre-Thanksgiving weekend getaway with my family at a cabin near Crabtree Falls.  No internet, lots of junk food, and game after game of Blockers at the kitchen table all made for a restful mini vacation.

_MG_3571 My favorite memory from our trip, however, has to be the spontaneous hike that I took with Chica and Grandpa after checking out the frozen creek.  On a whim we decided to explore the hillside that rose behind our cabin.  After a while of up, up, and more up, we could see what appeared to be the top of the hill.  Despite Grandpa’s better judgement, Chica and I just had to see what was on the other side.  When we finally reached it, we discovered a road!  This lead us to a new way back to the house and an exciting adventure story to tell when we returned.

Oh how it will make my mommy heart happy if at least one of my kids grows up to love hiking as much as I do.  This day was a start maybe.

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I think violin teachers have super powers.  My kid, who has only been playing for a matter of weeks, stood up there and played her special part of Jingle Bells, and no one ran away screaming.  It was all pretty magical if you ask me.

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My very literal kid insisted on wearing both red and green for the evening performance because these were Mr. Claytor’s directions.  “He said Christmas colors, and Christmas colors are red and green, Mom!”  Got it, Chica.  Got it.

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Jay went out of town at the beginning of December for his geek work conference.  Whenever I leave town, one of the kids gets sick.  When he leaves, I’m always the one that ends up under the weather. This trip was no exception.  I hurt my back, and after one teary Skype call with my parents, Grandpa was on the way to help me make it through until Jay’s return.

He helped make lunches, took Bubba to school, folded laundry, wrapped presents, and returned library books for me.  But perhaps the most miraculous of all was that I somehow convinced him to agree to put up my Christmas tree.  Wow.

So for weeks it sat in our living room, ornament-less but twinkling proudly with each branch curved just-so in the way that only Grandpas know how to do.  Every few days Chica would remind me that we needed to decorate it, and each time I gave her some lame excuse as to why it wasn’t a good time.  Finally I told her on the Saturday night before Christmas that it wouldn’t happen until the den was clean, and I sarcastically added that she was more than welcome to help me work on it Sunday morning.

Whadaya know?  That kid was up before the sun with her sweet little voice at my bedside, “Mommy, I’m ready to help you clean the den.”  Heart be still….and feet on the floor!  Chop, chop!

So we did it.  She made trip after trip after trip to the sink and Bubba’s room and Mommy’s closet as we put away all the junk that had accumulated at the front door dropping spot for weeks.

Then we were done.  And there was this…

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Mostly Chica did all the work.  I fulfilled my obligation of getting the breakable ornaments sufficiently out of reach, but I let her do everything else.  Bubba lost interest pretty quickly, so the other three of us ended up snuggling on the couch while we encouraged her.

No worries that 3/4 of the ornaments are on the bottom 1/3 of the tree.  No worries that the tacky beaded garland crisscrosses in odd patterns.  No worries that more and more of the ornaments are made from recycled “treasures” like old CDs and toilet paper rolls.  It is just perfect if you ask me.

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And finally…

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Would it be crazy to say that this particular moment might be my most favorite memory of all Christmas break?

The week before, our life group discussed joy.  I must admit that that night I was so mired down and worn out by work funk and the never-ending back pain that I just couldn’t conjure up a memory that I could definitely name joy.  Happiness?  Sure.  Joy?  Not sure.

But this moment?  It was as if Bubba’s pink sleepy cheeks were screaming out to me, “JOY lady!  Right here! Look around you!  Wake up!”

Joy in…
This kid who never tires of snuggles.
That daddy who snuggles back so I could keep doing whatever it was that I was doing.
The other kid reading to herself in the other room.
A husband who folds laundry.
And that same husband who remembers to buy batteries well in advance of Christmas.
A tree strewn with presents that reminded us how to play together again.

But mostly joy in remembering in my core, in that moment, that not one of those things is something that I deserve, something I’ve earned.  Each is a gift from a Creator that loves me in a way that is oh so much deeper and truer than snuggles and folded laundry and batteries.  But He uses those things, the take-your-breath-away pink cheeks, to give us just a little taste.  To remind us.  To wake us up.

May your New Year be filled with moments that whisper or shout or just straight-up declare to you, “JOY!”  And may we together learn how to look and listen.

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P.S. I’m taking a Facebook break, friends.  Mostly it’s about regaining some of the enormous amount of time I waste there.  I’m thinking, though, that less time wasted means more sleep.  And more sleep might mean eyes wider open to watch out for those opportunities for joy.  I’ll try to let you know how it goes.

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Planks, Specks, Teeth, and Bathroom Floors

Have you had any good plank and speck moments lately?  You know, the kind of moment where you work so hard at correcting the faults in others, only to realize you have the exact same problem.

This happened recently to my good friend, Ruth, as she was teaching her class of sixth graders about these guys. She literally stopped in the middle of her lesson and said to her room full of unexpecting eleven and twelve year olds, “Woah….I’m being convicted right now guys,” when she caught a glimpse of her own plank.  (I won’t tell her whole story, though, because I hope to one day talk her into blogging about it here.  Stay tuned.)

Well, I had my most recent moment like this in the shower yesterday.  (All great thinking happens in the shower, right?)  Here I am carrying on a quite lively rant with myself about my parents’ bathroom floor.  You see, they have some water damage in their upstairs bathroom.  The area under the toilet is feeling quite spongy, but they keep putting off getting it fixed.  There are probably many reasons why they haven’t fixed it yet….time, money, denial that it’s a big problem, or maybe even embarrassment that it got that way in the first place.  As I’m thinking of all this, I’m saying to myself, “They need to get it fixed now.  This small spongy spot would be one thing to fix, but if they let it turn into a real hole, it will become a huge project.”

And then it hit me.  I have the exact same problem happening in my own head.  Literally.

You see a few months ago I was enjoying a hot turkey sandwich, so expertly cooked by Jay on his Panini grill, when I bit down on something crunchy hard.  My mind immediately knew it was a tooth, but I tried to convince myself that it was instead a seed or nut from the super hearty bread Jay had chosen.  Of course my first guess was right, and I now had a pretty gaping hole on the side of a lower, right tooth.  I admit I shed a few tears at the impending pain I knew this would cause both my mouth and my wallet, and I vowed to call the dentist in the morning.

Except I never did.  I blamed it on the fact that I forgot or that I was too busy during any school day (when the dentist is open) to make the call.  But that is so not true.  I just, plain and simple, avoided it.  Time, money, denial, embarassment…all the exact same reasons why I’m sure my parents are avoiding their needed repairs.

So right there in the shower my plank came into full view.  Why hadn’t I made that connection before?

So I’m done avoiding it.  Tomorrow I’m going to suck up all of my fears and just call the blasted dentist.  And if he happens to be closed because of the holiday, I’m going to call every day until I get him.  No more excuses…especially now that I have you holding me to it.

Plank removal is hard work.  Ugh.

Got any planks you’ve been working on lately?

That’s YOUR Kid

At least once a day Jay and I exclaim to each other, “That’s YOUR kid!”  Maybe all families do this, but it’s our way of saying, “Whatever that kid is doing right now, they definitely got that trait from YOU, not me!”

One of the most memorable of these moments lately was during Chica’s Christmas dance concert.  When they started the music for her dance, she recognized right away that it was the wrong song…and she didn’t hesitate let everyone know.  You can see her moment of glory around 23 seconds.

When her dance was over, Jay’s mom leaned over, pointed squarely at Jay, and said, “That’s YOUR daughter.”  I didn’t know him when he was that young, but I have no trouble imagining that as a kid, he would have been the one also quickly correcting adults when they made a mistake….especially related to music.  Without a doubt, Chica has inherited this need to get things right along with a keen ear for music from her daddy.

So in the last couple of weeks I’ve been trying to gather a few more, “YOUR kid!” moments to share with you.  This isn’t an exhaustive list, but they’re the ones we could collectively remember to jot down last night on our ride home from Richmond.

That’s Jay’s Kid

  • Chica certainly gets her tenderheartedness from him.  Yesterday at Grandma’s house, we somehow got on the topic of Jazz, the dog we gave away to a new family over a year ago.  Chica commented how much she missed playing with Jazz then cried a few real tears for her.  “I just can’t make my tears go away,” she said oh-so-sincerely.  That’s her daddy’s girl, for sure.
  • Whenever I see either kid’s cheeks puffed out like a chipmunk from a bite of food that is three times too big for them, I make fun of Jay.  He eats in one bite what it would take me five or six to finish.
  • These days Bubba will do anything for a laugh, much like his daddy.  It’s so fun to watch his little sense of humor blossom.  His latest tactic is to stick his tongue out, wave his hands around, and make an, “Ahhh!!” wild-man noise.  Whatdayaknow, it works.  We laugh every time.

That’s My Kid

  • I’m happy to say that both of my kids can’t resist dancing when they hear music.  It usually ain’t pretty, but it’s from the heart….just like me.  : )
  • Chica’s a little bit obsessed these days with Spanish.  (She’s actually created her own language she calls “Kid Spanish,” but that’s a post for another day.)  I was that kid in high school that wound up taking three different languages at once.  Maybe she won’t go to those lengths, but I’m hoping her love for language doesn’t fade.
  • Jay says Chica gets her selective determination and focus from me.  Selective being the key word.  Chica was helping Nana make some peanut butter cookies before Christmas, and she was given the task of unwrapping all of the Hershey kisses.  Nana was doubtful that Chica would stick with it long enough to get the huge pile unwrapped, but Chica refused Nana’s offer to help.  Much to Nana’s surprise, she opened every last one of them.  The interesting thing, however, is that this focus fades for simple tasks like getting shoes on or finding a coat to wear.  I’m the same way.  I can stay focused for hours on a project that interests me, but other things, not so much.  Say cleaning, for example.
  • Speaking of cleaning, Jay also says both kids get their tidiness from me.  Don’t miss the sarcasm there, folks.   (Sarcasm…thankfully a trait neither has developed yet, but I’m sure it’s coming.)

There are a few gifts that they’ve inherited from both of us (like Chica’s ability to sleep through anything), but there are also a few characteristics that seem to be passed from further up the family tree.  Bubba has a sudden and intense fascination for animals like his papa.  Like her nana, Chica sees every stranger as just a friend that she hasn’t met yet. Chica has started multiple, eclectic collections of treasures like her grandpa, and she sees no problem in telling strangers her whole life story like Grandma.

So, what about your family?  I’d love to hear the latest “YOUR Kid” moment in your house.  Share it here!

Guest Post: Ideas From Bubba

It’s only 9:00, and I notice my mom’s already a little bleary-eyed. I heard her mumble something about three kids and no help and baby proofing, but I don’t really know what she means.

My mom’s a novice when it comes to entertaining me all day. Usually we have errands to run or jobs to finish on these family days, and I just go along for the ride whether I like it or not. But not today! We are at grandma’s house all day, and all we have to do is play. Yippee!

Mom says she doesn’t know what to do with me, which got me thinking that there are probably some more of you kids out there that have to help your moms and dads come up with ideas. So I’ve started a list. You (or they) can thank me later.

1. Knock down towers Mommy tries to build.
2. Pull all of the dish towels from the stove handle.
3. Drag the dish towels around the room, and pretend you are walking a dog.
4. Try to locate every expensive electronic in the house.
5. Ask everyone for a sip of their drink. Note: This is especially amusing if you refuse to drink from your own cup.
6. Follow your sister and cousin around and copy what they do.
7. Try to climb the stairs. This is pretty funny because it makes Grandpa so nervous.
8. You can also try playing a trick on Grandpa to make him think you borrowed one of the marbles from his collection. This will keep him busy all day looking for it. Hehe.
9. Refuse to play with any of your new Christmas toys. Parents love this.
10. Find a brick hearth to climb and practice your jumping.
11. Get in the shower. Hiding in the curtains is pretty entertaining.
12. Wrestle your mommy. Even she seems to think this is fun.
13. Play peek-a-boo in a doorway.
14. Find your grandma’s singing Christmas animals and make them all sing at once.
15. Dance. Lately I’ve been working on my own version of the disco move. This usually gets a laugh from the big people.
16. Try again to climb the stairs. I promise this never gets old.
17. Scavenge for leftover food under your high chair.
18. Make lots of snot and boogers and then refuse to let your mommy do anything about it. Just watch out, though, if your daddy gets involved. It’s pretty hard to win if they are double timing you.
19. Check all of the cabinets to see if anyone forgot to put back the rubber bands that they use to keep you out. If you are persistent, you can usually find one they missed.
20. And when all else fails…you guessed it…climb the stairs.

P.S. Please forgive me if this post looks weird or has any unintended autocorrects. I’m trying to teach Mommy how to use her new electronic device to make posts. I guess that could be number 21… Teach the adults how to use their new toys.

Christmas Mememberies

IMG_2710Some moms are good at documenting the special moments of family life with a camera.  This mom…not so much.  I have great intentions, but inevitably I’ve left the memory card in some computer or have run out of batteries or just can’t seem to hold the camera steady while chasing a toddler.  So I snap a few here and there and just hope to capture the rest of the mememberies in my memembery book.  Here are ten moments I’m adding to the pages from Christmas 2012:

1. Christmas Eve Breakfast—For maybe the fifth or sixth year in a row, I enjoyed Christmas Eve breakfast with my friend Ruth and her kids.  There’s something about creating (and keeping up with) your own tradition that makes you feel a little more like an adult.  Breakfast was slow and easy and her kids were comfortable enough to get themselves their own refills on drinks.  They left, and we took a deep breath and said to each other that it was now really Christmas.

2.  Righteous Joseph—That night we enjoyed the Celtic Christmas Eve service at church.  So I thought it was Christmas after breakfast, but it was for real Christmas after Debbie sang, “You may rejoice to hear the voice of the angel, Gabriel.”  That song.  Perfect.

3.  Chinese Food and Sangria—Carrying on more new traditions, we enjoyed an eclectic but relaxing dinner after church.  Thanks to Jay’s work in advance and my sister-in-law’s help, I actually had zero wrapping to do after the crazies were in bed.  (Let’s make sure that gets added to the list of traditions too, okay?)

4.  Waiting in Agony—Jay was able to hold off Chica for about 45 minutes before letting her come upstairs on Christmas morning so that Bubba and I could sleep a little bit longer.  How he accomplished this I will never know.  When they finally got upstairs, he said Chica still had to wait to open gifts until after he used the bathroom. At that moment I had flashbacks of my own dad purposely stalling with the camera and batteries as a kid.  Sorry Chica, but I’m sure you’ll do the same to your kids when it’s time.

5.  The Scarf—Every year there is something that Chica asks for at the last minute from Santa.  I mean like Christmas Eve, last minute.  And her emphatic little heart makes Santa want to go to any length necessary to make it happen.  Two years ago it was Spiderman, last year it was a skateboard, and this year it was scarf.  So Santa, after returning some ridiculously late library books, hit up the Roses Express in the Plaza for a scarf.  The sincere exclamation of, “A scarf…it’s just what I wanted!” upon opening it was worth every penny of that six dollars.

6.  THE tie—Unbeknownst to us, Chica’s nana took her shopping to the Dollar Tree to buy gifts for Jay, Bubba, and me.  She actually did a fantastic job picking out treasures.  Including this:

THE Tie

The picture, in this case, just doesn’t do it full justice; it also plays music.  And as if that wasn’t enough, we found out later that day that Chica’s cousin bought the very same type of tie for his daddy too.   I love it.

7.  Mileage reimbursements—Jay gave me a very extravagant gift that I totally wasn’t expecting.  Upon opening it, I admit I silently waivered back and forth between, “Holy cow, this is cool!” and, “I tried so hard to stick to Christmas budget, and you TOTALLY blew it!”  He knows me well enough to know that this was exactly what I was thinking, too.  So after the craziness had died down (and I think I still hadn’t opened it), he told me that he had saved up his mileage reimbursements for the year in order to make my gift happen.  All of a sudden it was ok.

8.  Nap—I got one on Christmas afternoon.  It’s a highlight, folks.

9.  A Christmas Story—Before dinner Chica and I retired to the basement to try to lower the chaos factor upstairs.  We played pizza delivery man and Nutcrackers go to heaven and all sorts of other four-year-old pretend stories.  The highlight was when one dollhouse doll was telling another the Christmas story.  In case you haven’t heard, you should know that the magi brought Jesus, “Gold, breakenpence, and whir.”

10.  Perfect Ending—We finished out a great day with a movie after the kids were in bed.  I cannot tell you the last time I stayed awake to watch an entire movie…it must have been a good one!

So how about you?  What mememberies did you add to your memembery book this Christmas?  I’d love to hear one!

Help My Unbelief

Dear God,

I need a miracle.  Actually, I have a friend who needs a miracle, and I’m just one of the hundreds of people who are probably begging for her miracle this week.

I have some pretty vivid memories from my high school days where you opened my eyes to a truth in your word for the first time.  Like the time I was on a mission trip, snuggled in my sleeping bag on the floor of some Sunday School room.  I remember reading in my Rebecca St. James devotional book that I was expected to rejoice even in my sufferings.  Say what?!?  You mean I’m not supposed to just throw a pity party and whine?

I also remember hearing a truth for the first time sitting in the floor of an upstairs cabin at Camp Little Cross Roads in my first summer as a counselor.  It was during a staff meeting, and one of the directors told us that we were to, “Pray believing.”  I guess that up until that point I had always prayed wishing or hoping…not really believing.

All these years later, I’m still struggling with both of these instructions, God.

How can I rejoice in the midst of my friend’s suffering?  I realize that the rest of those verses say that believers are supposed to rejoice because of what the suffering produces in us…patience, character, and hope.  God, I think my friend has enough of those.  She’s got it.  And for me, God…..might I suggest you could just choose some other way to produce patience, character, and hope in my life?  My children seem to be doing a pretty good job at all of those these days.

And then there’s the whole praying believing deal.  Here’s the thing….I fully believe, 100%, that you have the power to produce this miracle.  Every single part of my being knows that you can.  I must confess, God, that I just have a hard time praying believing that you will.

Then my mind starts this vicious, never-ending, confusing cycle of questions that you’ve heard from me a zillion times.  What if I’m the reason that it’s not happening?  What if my unbelief is holding you back?  But what if I pray it and then that’s not your will?  What then?

Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief.

God, I started typing this prayer hoping (believing even, maybe) that I’d get to this point and I’d have some answers.  I guess that your answers are not really any different than the instructions that prompted the questions:  Rejoice.  Believe.

This night is born to us the root of our joy

So I will rejoice in the birth of the one from whom joy grows.  I will rejoice in the midst of my friend’s sufferings because I do believe that the product of that suffering can bring glory to you.  We need a miracle.  Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief.

Advice from a House (Un)Keeper

You know how some people are binge dieters?   I’ve decided that I’m a binge house cleaner.

I don’t clean with any regularity.  Actually, to be totally honest, I don’t even pick our junk up with any regularity.  I just let it collect and pile and swarm until I can’t take it anymore, and only then do I clean it up.  But since the piles and the swarms have such a long time to collect between my attacks on them, I have to wait until I have lots of free time to  make it happen.

So consequently I am spending this day, the first day of Christmas break, not decorating my tree or making hot chocolate or wrapping presents.  No, I’m spending it cleaning.  I sent Bubba to school and I’ve told a flabbergasted Chica she can watch movies all day if she wants.  I think she thinks some other mother has taken over my body for that comment.  We’re on the fourth showing of Over the Hedge, and it’s only 10 a.m.

So as I flitted around my house this morning getting started, I started thinking about the best practices of a binge cleaner.  I haven’t looked, but I’m sure there are a gazillion plans for binge diets out there on the Internet.  I’m just guessing that there’s not as much useful information about binge cleaning, so maybe the world could benefit from my expertise in this area.  So here you are…

  1. Get everyone else out of the way.   There’s already enough stuff on the floor (and the tables, and the counters, and the shelves).  You don’t need extra people around getting in the way and making more mess.  Nor do you need them huffing and puffing at you for letting it get this bad or questioning your cleaning tactics.  So make them leave, or banish them to one room.  I honestly believe this revelation I discovered in year one has saved my marriage on many occasions.
  2. Use the Five Minute Rule.  Make a list of every room you have to clean, and then set a timer for five minutes.  Go to the first one and work like a mad woman until the timer goes off.  Don’t think about it too hard.  Just pick up the first thing that your eyes land on that doesn’t give you mental anguish to figure out where it should live in your home.  When the timer goes off, drop whatever you are doing and walk back to your list.  Cross that room off, congratulate yourself, and move on to the next.  When you’ve visited all of your rooms, repeat.
  3. Stick to the plan.  Don’t let yourself get distracted from the your assigned room during the five minutes.  As you carry the bathroom scale from your kid’s bed back down to its actual home, you’ll be tempted to notice the golf-ball sized dust bunnies on your stairs that are hopping around and actually beginning to talk.  Ignore them.  Their time will come.
  4. Set a goal.  Plan to reward yourself after you’ve done your five minutes in all eight rooms.    But when that ends up seeming like an eternity, and you have to stop for a short break after just six, don’t beat yourself up too much.  You’re making progress.
  5. Don’t feel guilty about throwing away your kids’ artwork from school.  There will be more, I promise.  And it only gets cuter as time passes.  Just please, please be sure to burry it in the trashcan well below other non-kid created items.  This will save you lots of explaining later.
  6. If you get really desperate, pretend you are some sort of cleaning expert while you work and invent all sorts of great ideas for advice.  Spend your reward break blogging about it.

Ok….that was waaaay too much stalling.  Back at at.  Round two:  Ding!