10.31.2011

Happy Halloween!

Today is the happiest of Halloweens. You see, today is October 31 which means IT IS FINISHED! The 31 days of posting has come to an end and I just have to say, YIPPEEEEE! (You are probably feeling the same.)

Might I just point out that in the last 31 days you have actually been privy to 33 posts. (Hey, I never said they would be GOOD posts....this was all about quantity, not quality....apparently I learned NOTHING from our little mini-series!)

But, it was a good lesson in perseverance for me and now it is time for a break.

So, on that note, I just have to tell you about a conversation I overheard today.

Aidan: "Madeline, you are being an e-d-i-e-t right now."

Madeline: "What does that spell?"

Aidan: "Well, duh. It spells idiot."

Hee hee, I don't even need to make THAT funny.

Happy Halloween!




10.30.2011

Just for a Day

Just for a day: 
I chose to stay home. It was then that I was able to create a home worth staying in.
I chose to be still, unmoving. It was then that I was moved.
****
The baby is asleep. My instincts tell me to be quiet. To let him sleep. To KEEP HIM ASLEEP. But, to be quiet, I must slow down. To be quiet, I have to be still. In that stillness, I can hear tiny whisperings stirring. (No I am not schizo but thanks for wondering!)

While I am actively being quiet, it occurs to me: We create too much excess noise. Most of us do anyway. We fill time up, moving from place to place, activity to activity, one piece of technology to the next; one noise to another. Our lives are full. And in that fullness, they are noisy.

But God spoke to Hagar near a spring in the desert, when she was all by herself. God spoke to Abraham when he was sitting, still and alone, in front of his tent. God spoke to Jacob in his dream and then again in a wrestling match, in the middle of the night, in the middle of silence. God spoke to Joseph in his dreams and again in the aloneness of prison; to Israel in the visions of night; to Moses while he was by himself. And then, in a most dramatic display, Got spoke to Elijah. He called him into His presence and sent a wind storm, and an earthquake, and a fire. But God was not in those. God came in a tiny whisper.

And the story line reveals itself over and over: God spoke to Samuel in the silence of rest and solitude, while alone in the temple; to the prophet Nathan, in the night; to Solomon in a dream and to Daniel in visions and during prayer.

Time and again, God speaks. In the silence. In the solitude. In the stillness.

Fast forward in time and we see God speaking (sometimes directly, sometimes through angels and in other ways) to Zechariah while he was alone burning incense in the temple, to Joseph in a dream, to Mary through an angel while she was alone, to Cleopas and his friend while they walked, and stood still, and broke bread; to Mary Magdalene as she wept alone in the tomb, to Saul on the road while he was blinded by the light, practically forced into silence so that he might listen and again to him (as Paul) in the night; to Ananias and Cornelius in visions, and to Peter on a roof while praying. The story unfolds and we are shown that we occasionally need to be still. We occasionally need to shut off all the noise invading our lives and be silent. Because God might be trying to speak.

"For God is not a God of chaos (or confusion, or disorder), but of peace." --1 Corinthians 14:33

And to hear Him, perhaps we need to practice stillness. And simply be quiet. Maybe then, in our stillness, we will be moved. Maybe then, order and peace will follow.

Profile of a Runner

There are all kinds of people out there and plenty of categories to fit them in. You might be a doctor and a parent. You might be a teacher, volunteer fireman and a swimmer. You might be into yoga or spinning or weight training. Or all of the above. And then there are the runners.

Now, many people call themselves runners. And by all means, it is a huge spectrum of people. But for some, it is more than just the way they get exercise. It is a way of life. I can't say that I fit into that category 100%, (it's closer to 99%) but for some, running is like eating. You can only go so long without it. Today's race made me realize just how insane some of us really are. (My guess is I will write that exact same sentence when I get home from the Polar Dash 10k on Jan. 1, brrrrrr....but I am getting ahead of myself.)

A few weeks back, my friend asked if I wanted to run the 10-mile Monster Dash with her. While the entry fee was almost enough to dissuade me (I think I paid $75) the gear alone was almost worth it. So I sucked it up and registered under the condition that we would run sporting some sort of costumes. After all, it is a costume run. (I wore a pumpkin hat and antennae, she wore devil horns.....so much for costumes but hey, it wasn't nothing!)

Anyway, my friend is a pretty solid 9- to 9:30-minute mile runner and we run together once every week or two assuming I only have one kid to push in a jogger. At any rate, she wanted to line up at the 10- minute pace and then play catch up. But as some of you know, I can be a wee bit, um, competitive. I argued we should line up at the 9-minute pace and assume we would do better given that it is an especially fast course. (Lots of downhill, woo hoo!)

We compromised and lined up near the 9:30 pacer. We were surrounded by all sorts of people dressed in all sorts of crazy costumes. It would be an easy place to sit and judge but rest assured, you can never tell what kind of runner someone might be by their costume. :)

Anyway, my goal was simply to run with my friend the ENTIRE RACE. After all, she was the one who invited me and it's always nice to have someone to chat with over long distances. That was my goal....but some of you know me and well, there is this little problem.

If you are not competitive then you may not fully understand the rest of the story.

Right before the race began, the espresso kicked in and I remembered why having given birth to 5 children put my bladder at a slight disadvantage in these things. But, there was no time to take care of that. The front runners left and we soon realized we were being held back in the second wave of runners (already this was just about enough to KILL ME! I mean, how can we catch up if we can't start when the race starts!) But then, the the rope fell and off we went.

So, I start chatting away, blah blah blah. My friend answers my questions briefly but for the most part just kept quiet. (Think of the old Spike and Chester cartoons, only, she's tiny.)

At first, it seemed like we were keeping a good pace and I felt like I could easily just stick with her and be happy. But as time went by, she started telling me she wasn't feeling great today. And then a woman in a wedding dress passed us.....oh, not the woman in the wedding dress?! Really?!

And then, it seemed like we were getting passed more and more frequently. And that's when the competitive devil inside started rearing its ugly HUGE head. Let me break here for a second and just say that it's not like I am ultra-competitive. (Stop laughing Kurt and friends.) I do realize that not everything in life is a competition. There is no prize to be won for taking the quickest shower, let's say, or having the most kids (although we've got a pretty good start on that one in many circles, don't ya think? Just kidding...) But, when it comes to athletics, well, I'll admit I might tend to be a wee bit over the edge.

So the rest of the run went something like this (insert voice in head):

"Oh wow, is that person wearing a banana costume? I bet that is hard to run in. But look at that?! She's passing us."

"Man, I didn't know dogs were allowed on this course....sucks to get passed by a dog. Argh! It passed us, too!"

"Wait, is that chick pregnant?"

And then the real kicker: "Hey look Karen, that guy looks like he must be around 80. Oh, and look, HE'S PASSING YOU! Good job there, kiddo."

So, we are passing mile 6 at this point and my friend stops for water. I started running backwards to keep an eye on her and that is when competitive self thinks, 'If I am running backwards and keeping up just fine, I probably need to just bolt.'

My friend catches back up (and I turn back around) and I tell her that at the 5k mark I plan on taking off to run my personal 5k time. She says that's great, she isn't feeling really well anyhow and feels bad for holding me back. And then, God bless her, she says, "Why don't you go on ahead now." We have about 3.5 miles left at this point. I half-apologize and then off I frantically go, trying to get ahead of all those people I *know* I should be able to beat.

Pretty soon, I have passed the old guy (phew), and another old guy (that admittedly I had to work a little harder to catch), the banana girl, the guy wearing the "running for beer" t-shirt (surely I can't let THAT guy beat me...or that one, or THAT one!), the wedding dress lady, the dog and its owner, the chick whose sign on her back read: "I'm slow, but you're still behind me!" (Eat my glitter, chickie!) And so on and so forth. Then, I overhear one of the pacers tell someone he has 9.3 miles on his watch (really, they make watches that give you distance?! Awesome!) and so I think, 'Well, shoot, I might as well keep running fast now, there's not even a mile left!' And then up ahead, I see another little girl (what, are you 12?) and then, oh no, an old(er) lady wearing a tutu and another older lady in a tutu and holy smokes, that guy is HUGE! HE. CAN. NOT. BEAT. ME! (I never said I was a PC runner....)

And by the end I was in a full out sprint trying to finish before one more person....and then another, and another.....because you know, what kind of race is it if you aren't trying to beat the people in front of you?! (Plus, they were giving out free beer at the end....and I still had to go potty....but whatever.)

For those of you who are not runners, no, I didn't win. That is the beauty of it. Unless you are an elite racer, there is ALWAYS someone ahead of you to chase down. You can ALWAYS do better. And I imagine, even the runners who win these things are thinking that they "could've done better if....." because that is how we they think.

After playing a serious round of chase at the end, I ran the ten miles in one hour and twenty-three minutes. Since it has been years since I did any real distance racing, that's a decent baseline going forward. (And by going forward I mean I'm already registered for a 5k, 10k, two half marathons and a full marathon for 2012....yes, yes I am....darn pre-race-running-expo offering discounted rates for the 5-race series!....hee hee hee.) What can I say? As my husband recently told me about hunting, I'm hooked! But then, I already knew that!

10.29.2011

The Monster Dash

Yesterday, Solomon and I headed into downtown St. Paul to pick up my chip and bib for the 10 mile race I am running today with a friend. I was surprised by the looks we were getting. Surely people have seen babies downtown before, I thought. I started feeling a bit awkward. I mean, usually the reaction to the baby is all giggly and sweet, not snooty and rude. Usually the laughing is with us, not at us.

Then it occurred to me that maybe the issue was that I still had on the antennae I was wearing when I dropped the kids off at school.


Hee hee....Come on people, lighten up! This is a COSTUME RUN!

I left the doodle-bug headband on the rest of the day to spite the seriousness. They functioned as glittery upside down exclamations of "IN YOUR FACE!" It was totally worth it.

Wish us luck!

(Something tells me that the full coffee mug full of espresso with a side of bacon and candy pumpkins was NOT the best pre-race meal.....hmmmm.....)

10.28.2011

Our Voices

One thing this blogging challenge has done to me is it has made me very aware of my own voice. And I have to admit, sometimes I wish I had a different voice. No, I don't wish I had a different voice-box or that the actual sound that comes out of my mouth were any different. But, in the craft of writing, I sometimes find myself wishing for a different voice. Silly, I know. But....

There are a few bloggers I follow. (I am fairly picky since reading could easily consume all of my time.) I can pretty much sort them into four categories, with a bit of overlap here and there.

These categories are: Inspirational, Humorous, Practical, and Friends. And I am often struck by their unique voices.

At times, I find myself moved by an inspirational blogger. Their voice reaches those deep places inside  my soul that stay hidden from the outside world. They stir me, sometimes pushing me forward into places I would not have considered going without them. I feel forever changed when I read their posts. And often I stop at the end and think, "Wow, I wish I wrote like that. I wish I moved people like that."

And then I will read something so funny I laugh out loud to the point of hysteria, tears rolling down my cheeks, unable to move but in fits. (Sometimes it is even meant to be funny.) And I think, "Wow, I wish I wrote like that. I wish I had that kind of wit to paralyze people with laughter."

At other moments, I find myself so eager to try a bit of practical advice. It's like the blogger is looking into my life and telling me what I need to know right at that exact moment to keep things in order or to get me back on track. And once again I find myself thinking, "Wow, I wish I had enough insight to have written that. I wish I had helped someone else like that."

And then I read the writings of my friends. And while I am thankful to share in their lives, I think, "Wow, I am so blessed to have such creative friends. I wish I created or wrote like that." (If not just because they have managed to figure out how to get paid for doing what they love to do! Go figure!)

And then I go back and read some archived posts from this Chicken blog. I become critical and have to stop myself from going back and changing every last word, from trying to make it sound like someone else. As I sit there, one of my kids inevitably comes crawling into my lap. (What can I say, they are opportunistic children and if the lap is available, well, they have to be quick on the draw!) And while holding them, I remember that this blog is a special place, not because of the voice in it, but because it has them in it. ("It's not about me....it's not about me....it's not about me.....ok, mostly it's not about me....") And their simple gesture reminds me that I was given my voice and the desire to write for a reason. And that by creating this blog with my unique voice my children will one day know that I was truly present in their lives and it will show them how I wanted to hold onto every. last. moment. together. How I wanted to store away these memories in a safe place so that I would always know where to find them. (I also wanted to stop the clock and just be here in this place with them forever but apparently we don't always get what we want! Drats!)

And because it is my voice telling their stories, our stories, and not some random writer, maybe one day they will begin to know me a little more fully. And I'd like to think that that is a good thing. (So long as it isn't used as fuel by their therapists, of course!)

So, here's to all our individual voices: May we embrace our unique inner voice, knowing that each one bursts with the potential for spreading truth and goodness, adding its own flavor and beauty to this world, just the way it is! May our voices be our offering of love, and of grace. (Even if it contains a hint of gracefulness, like a chicken!)

10.27.2011

Must be in the Blood

Today Liam and I were sorting animal cards. We had three piles:
1. Animals we see in the Neighborhood
2. Animals we see at the Farm
3. Animals we see at the Zoo

He did pretty well until we got to the alligator. I held up the card, "What's this?"

"An ALLIGATOR!" he exclaimed.

"Where does the alligator go?"

"In the neighbowhoo," he said.

"Well, maybe if we lived in Florida," I told him. "But let's put this guy in the zoo."

A few cards later, we came upon a Giant Tortoise.

"What's this?" I asked.

"An Alligator!" he said. Oooh, so close.

"Way to use caution buddy, but no, this is a tortoise." Really, he was one aggressive looking fellow right there. If you are three. And don't know he only moves like once a year. They do have similar coloring anyway.

A few cards later he put the bears and monkeys in our neighborhood, too. (Must be confused with the neighbors!)

The very last card was a hippopotamus with his mouth opened wide.

"What's this?" I asked.

"Another alligator!" he said excitedly.

"Close enough!" (Hey, better safe than sorry!)

10.26.2011

Movin'...

...to the beat.

Now that I have finally figured out how to upload my phone videos, I figure the "right thing" for me to do is to share a few. (Yes, I am shirking my commitment to writing today!)

This first video features Aidan on the drums and Solomon, also on the drums (well you know, he has to hold on to them to do his bopping!) Enjoy!


video

10.25.2011

B.Y.O.B.: It's Over (the Mini-Series)

Bring Your Own Blessing

Here's me: "Blah, blah, blah, blah blah, organization, blah, blah, right thing(s), blah, blah, prioritizing, blah blah, too many good things, blah, blah, blah, not enough time, blah, blah, blah, where's the beef, blah blah..."

Here's you: 

"Wake me up when it's nap time will ya?" (Surely she'll be done jabbering by then!)

You can blame my friend for telling me I should cut my posts into sections and post them over a span of several days, so that they are not as long and it doesn't take an entire lunchtime to get through them. She would be right of course IF I COULD STOP MYSELF FROM WRITING TOO MANY WORDS! And why I chose to do an entire series dedicated to something I am MISERABLE at is beyond me. I am just glad it is over. I am feeling blessed that we got through it and can go back to random, scattered thoughts and stories from which I hope to find plenty of humor. Phew. Thanks for your endurance and unwavering support. (Hey, one can hope, right? Hello? Helllooooo? Anyone still there?)

Hee hee hee.

Have a fantastic day! 

10.24.2011

Doing the Right Thing(s): Part 5, The End....Actually, It's Just The Beginning!

We spent the morning a few days back having Liam assessed for Physical Therapy. Sure he is making progress but we had this incident a couple weeks ago. You see, he was at swim lessons and at the very end of the class, they had the three little preschoolers line up on the side of the pool and told them to jump in the water (to be caught by the instructor). Liam went first. The problem? Liam can't jump yet. But he doesn't fully realize it. So instead of jumping he just kind of stepped off the pool deck, forcing the teenage instructor to lunge forward to grab him and as he went in he whacked the back of his head on the concrete deck. It was not pretty. No blood but a decent chicken goose egg and plenty of tears and a slightly shocked instructor. (Apparently most kids can jump, who knew....) At any rate, I told the story to his speech pathologist who set him up to be assessed by a PT. Sure enough, he qualifies. His skills are "scattered," the PT told me. He can do some things really well, some things need refining (did you know that they expect a certain running form from three year olds? Sheesh, I thought legs and arms flailing in different directions WAS their form!) and of course, the lack of jumping is far from typical. It was hard for me not to say, "Oh what a relief! He is fairly normal after all." I mean really. Most of us are pretty darn good at some things, average at others and pretty clueless at the rest. That's just a fact of life. You take the good, you take the bad, you take the.....oh wait, wrong thing.

Anyway, the thing about PT is that you don't just do it quickly and get it over with. It is a process. You take baby steps. It takes time. Patience. Follow through. And it has to become a priority for it to be successful. Like exercising. Or finishing that sewing project. Or meal planning.

Deciding to do the right thing(s) is not something that you do one day and so you did it and you are done. It is something you decide to do in every waking moment. It is lifelong and for some of us who are used to going with the flow and taking life as it hits us, it can be life changing.

So where does all of this talk on prioritizing and doing the right things leave us speed demons of the world whose natural inclinations are to add all sorts of random good things to fill our already crazy lives while possibly sacrificing some of the more important things? Well, duh, it means we have to choose the right good things to do at breakneck speed and make sure to do them in the right order, rapido, rapido! Andele! Andele! Just kidding.

It means slowing down long enough to be mindful in the prioritizing: Liam really does need Physical Therapy so that his lack of jumping isn't hazardous. Where does that go in order of importance to me? Above exercise? Above meal planning? Definitely before swim lessons that require him to jump into the water! And while we're at it, I really do need to stay on top of the laundry or else I will have twelve overwhelming loads staring me in the face and my kids will be sent home from school because they aren't wearing pants. Maybe that is where we begin: we decide to take on one thing and stay on top of it and when that becomes routine, we pick the next thing....baby steps.

The prioritizing means we also have to set aside a few minutes to actually sit on a chair ever so often (not just at the evening meal, I know, novel idea...) to map out our daily routines and activities so that we can keep things straight; putting the first things first (first jumping, then jump-roping, then pole vaulting), saying no to the excess and then filling our time with that which is meaningful and intentional. And who knows, maybe that time spent planning and organizing will become enjoyable; a time to renew the spirit, a time to refresh the soul. A time for quiet. And stillness. And peace. Maybe it will become afternoon tea. Care to join me?

(Maybe we could take a nice long run afterwards.....at a really fast pace.....before cramming in a few thousand squats, dips, lunges and push-ups......before rushing off to the next thing!)

Hey, what can I say? It's a work in progress!

10.23.2011

Doing the Right Thing(s): Part 4 (Almost Done)

A friend of mine used to guard her time as if she had taken an oath to guard the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.  She was so good at saying no and limiting the activities of her family that at times it got frustrating to the rest of us. Then we moved out to CA and having a clean slate, I, too, tried to guard my family's time and schedule, filling it with less but more meaningful things. And as they get older, that combat seems to be getting more fierce. I am no longer just a gatekeeper, deciding what will go on our calendar and what won't. Instead, I have had to become a soldier on the front lines fighting back all those "good" things and "good" intentions and "good" activities from overtaking every free moment we have. And still, it sometimes feels like a losing battle. There is so much "good" to be done, so many "good" things to do. But is it always the right thing?

Ask yourself: Are there things you need to put on hold while you do the right things for this season of your life? Does your health need more attention? Do you have a relationship that needs mending? A household that needs you more present and involved? Financial struggles needing your undivided efforts? Work that just needs to get done so that you can focus on your dreams and loftier goals? So that you might help more or serve more or, heck, even play more without the weight of the world on your shoulders....Are you running daily marathons when a short but well-planned 5K would suffice?

Seriously, think about it. It would be good of us to foster baby animals for the Humane Society. I'd love it, the kids would love it, the Humane Society desperately needs it. But would that just add undue stress and burden on an already chaotic household, possibly causing my husband to put his head through a window which we would then have to repair AFTER he was discharged from the mental ward? Probably. Then is it the right thing for our family to take on presently? Probably not. Maybe you aren't fostering animals, and instead, like me you are hiding behind the things that really have to get done, and some that you really just want to do (a-hem, blog). Are those the right things for right now or just good things you justify doing in one way or another? Are you avoiding some of the more important stuff?

Don't get me wrong: I am not talking about cutting out all hobbies and other leisure activities. Quite the contrary. Not only are they important but your well-being depends on them. We have to have a healthy dose of fillers to balance things out! But if you are losing sleep at night fretting over whether you missed something on your calendar which is bursting at the seams; or if your health is suffering because you simply aren't making time for it; or if your family is starving for some wholesome, healthy food, it might be time to make hard choices and do some weeding. Don't think of it as abandoning the animals, think of it as opening the door for someone else to take on a "good" thing (while you shut it as quickly as you can behind you to restore sanity to your home!)

***Disclosure: I was trying to do so many things while writing today's segment that I somehow deleted the entire thing and had to REWRITE. EVERY. LAST. WORD.....Grrrrr. I am just sure it was much better the first time! Hee hee *Blush*

10.22.2011

Doing the Right Thing(s): Part 3

Aidan had a little issue recently with turning in his homework. As we sorted through his backpack, pulling out an entire army of origami paper frogs (thanks be to the substitute teacher with paper folding skills who thought it was a great idea to teach THAT to a bunch of 3rd graders!) Kurt commented that I was going to have to learn to be more organized so that I could help Aidan learn organization skills as well..... Sigh. It's true. (Gosh darn it!) Try as I might, and as much as I love organization, (really, those closet and home catalogs are glorious!) it just doesn't come naturally to me. I have "loftier ideas" floating through my head, visions and dreams (of unattainable grandeur) to put into action. Who has time for the practical, the tangible, the planning, coordinating, and formulating of good structures, systems and routines? I can't even keep a running blog theme straight, much less the many details of life! For some reason, I continue to choose disorganization over the careful planning of our days. I continue to cram it all in instead of choosing to let go of the superfluous stuff, the stuff cluttering our time and getting in the way of solid family building. I choose to stray from simplicity and dwell too often in chaos. (Sometimes that is just chasing a dirt-eating 9 month old of course!)

But.....isn't there always that but? But as Mr. Covey said, there is no substitute for doing the right things. Notice he didn't say "doing the good things" for there are many, many good things to choose from; many things we think we "should" do simply because of their goodness and because we can. But just because they are good things and just because we might be able to fit them in "real quick" doesn't make them the right things for us to do at that time. We could do them, but at what expense? And simply speeding things up, well, you saw the results in my plates and knives! There is no excuse to cover up the blatant error of going through life quickly but unintentionally. Swiftly but inefficiently. Rapidly but recklessly. Filled to the brim, but with the wrong, good things.

What good things do you justify doing when in reality they may be out of place right now? Are there areas of your life you neglect but then fill with acts of goodness to validate your choices? Is your schedule so full you seem to lack direction or focus? Does anyone suffer because of it? Are you suffering in some way because you are doing the things you want to do (cough, cough, blogging, sputter, sputter, cough!) and avoiding the things you need to do (hack, sputter, meal-planning/cleaning/insert-other-important-things-here, cough)?

We have all been there. At some point, we all miss the boat (because we were running late trying to to fit in two more little random things, or simply forgot altogether, again!) At some point, we all take on too much, bite off more than we can chew. That's life. It's part of the learning. The question is, are you stuck there? 

10.21.2011

Doing the Right Thing(s): Part 2

A friend and I were discussing priorities recently. I told her I'd like help with a sewing project, among other things; she said she'd like help fitting exercise into her routine. Whereas she already puts feeding her family good, wholesome, well-planned-out meals at the top of her priority list, I justify putting personal exercise at the top of mine, rationalizing it with thoughts like, "If mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy" and exercise makes me happy....and keeps me healthy and energetic and fit, which in turn makes Kurt happy and it gives me the stamina to keep up with five monsters kids.....But still, I have to admit, it does seem a wee bit selfish if you are on the outside looking in. I am pretty sure healthy meals for the seven of us should come first! (Especially over random sewing projects!)

I am envious of my friend's ability to sit down and plan out her meals for the entire week or month. And I am not talking just dinner. She has breakfasts and lunches mapped out as well. And they're wholesome, heathy, "from scratch" meals every morning, noon and night! Her organization skills so surpass my meager efforts, it's downright humbling. When I sit down to try to "plan" a week's worth of meals, I get stuck on the logistics, bogged down by the details. I start to drown in the panic of having to stick with a plan in the first place. My mind starts tricking me with the "what ifs" (what if I want to be spontaneous, what if I get a craving for something else, what if I fall off the wagon, what if the store is out of asparagus on day 3, what if I choose the wrong thing, what if.....Argh!) And because I am afraid of stumbling (or maybe because I am too busy or preoccupied to think about it) I give up the process altogether. Great role-modeling, huh?

As our discussion continued, we spoke about how we all prioritize our lives by our own choosing. While she finds it essential in her day-to-day life to have that meal plan, my workout schedule is actually of utmost importance. Without exercise, I start getting jittery and then grouchy and impatient and then downright unpleasant. It starts to interfere with my relationships: with myself, with my family, even with the food I choose to eat. Seriously. Exercise is way up on top of my list for a reason and it isn't just vanity! But in order for it to be there, I have to make choices about what won't be there. And that's where things get a little screwy sometimes because my instincts (hyped up on a dose of society) are yelling from the sidelines that I can do it all if I just move faster, dig deeper, give it my everything. That when another family needs a music teacher I can somehow find more time in the day to fit them in. That when another volunteer position opens, when the church needs something, when a friend is struggling, I can be the one to show up. And so I should.

Survey says, EEEEERRRRRRRRRNT!

Really, this rationale is just crazy. No one can do it all. Working faster is not always the answer. (Just take another look at our dinner plates!) No one can fix everything nor be everything to everyone and if we try, we put our own lives out of balance. Add more students? Sure, at the risk of neglecting my own kids. Fill another position at church or in the community? Even God would probably frown down on that one currently. Making hard choices? Becoming more intentional? Now we're talking!

Do you ever find things getting out of balance? Do you try to do it all? Is prioritizing difficult, mainly because you forgot how to say no? Do you move from one thing to the next at the speed of light? Are things getting jumbled and broken? (Maybe that brokenness isn't in your plates and knives. Maybe it is hiding in your relationships. Maybe it shows up in clutter or disorganization. Maybe it rears its face in a chronic health issue that needs addressing.....in weight gain, stress, depression, loneliness, dependency, forgetfulness. The list is never ending....)

Doing the right thing(s) involves making hard choices. Choices that say, "Yes, I could do that; yes, I could help; yes, I could but no, I can't do that right now without sacrificing something of importance." 

Think about it, what are you sacrificing right now? And for what?

(Ok, I just have to stop here and say, I do know a handful of people whose lives seem so perfectly balanced that they really don't need to read on. But, then again, sometimes these things creep up on us when we least expect it. Maybe we all need a good reminder!)

10.20.2011

Doing the Right Thing(s): Part 1

"Doing more things faster is no substitute for doing the right things." --Steven Covey

Oh why, Mr. Covey, why? Why do you challenge us so?

How many of us fill our lives with more and more and more, doing everything as quickly as we can just so that we can get on with the next thing? I know I fall into this category more often than I'd like to admit. I mean, in the last fifteen minutes I swept and mopped the floor (while dragging a towel with one foot in order to dry it at the same time), changed and fed the baby, put him to sleep while the other kids "helped mop," transferred the laundry into the dryer, got the three middle kids ready for bed, said their prayers, set out their school clothes, went back up to quiet them down (twice) then tidied their bathroom, and all the while I have been back and forth writing this blog. Sound familiar? Well, I don't know about you, but I need to take some recovery time just thinking about it!

And in that hurried pace, while we do get a lot done, we often fail to prioritize correctly. We often find that things don't go as smoothly as they could because we do the wrong things, or at least, we do things in the wrong order. If we don't take time to pause and think (asking what the end goal is and what needs to get done right now in order to get there) and plan out a path (perhaps getting input from our significant others when our brains boycott the efforts....and in my case getting that input before I realize I need it!), then we frantically go through the day, often making a mess of things and getting frustrated that we have so much to clean up or correct or replace (again) afterwards.

Is this quick pace of life worth it? Does it really get the results we want?

(If you are answering "well duh, no" maybe you'd like to write tomorrow's post....hee hee, just kidding! But I hope you will check in again tomorrow to see where we are going with this.)

10.19.2011

Doing the Right Thing(s)

What do you notice about the following pictures?



Do you see the chips and fragments? Do you notice the brokenness? Do you recognize it as being the result of moving too fast? Of trying to do things too hastily? 

Over the next few days we will be looking at what it means to slow down long enough to do the right thing(s). Maybe you have this under control, or maybe you just need some tweaking in your prioritizing or maybe you are like me and feel the need to do as much as you can and as fast as you can even if it means less than perfect results. Whatever the case may be, I hope you will join me for this little mini-series. 

See ya tomorrow!

10.18.2011

You Know What They Say....

Give a kid a toy, they play for a day.

Teach them how to build their own..........and then give them free access to all the tools, extra wood and other materials they can scrounge up in the garage and voila! They'll probably get at least two, maybe three days out of this one!


Oh, and that "Beware" sign is probably not to be taken too lightly.....I mean, Aidan's good for an 8 year old and all but well, I wouldn't go crawling around in there if I were you....just sayin'!

10.17.2011

B.Y.O.B. Half Way Done

Bring Your Own Blessing


I'll be honest: I am not sure if this is my blessing or yours but we are over half way done with the Daily Blogpost Challenge. (Yippee!) Next year, I think I will pick a theme because at least then I would have an idea of what to write about each day! As it stands, I am running short of ideas (and time) and I think it is beginning to show. (Or perhaps it was showing from the get go.) At any rate, it has been a challenge and a blessing. And I look forward to taking six months or so off from blogging come November 1st! (Just kidding. It's not THAT big of a blessing!)

What blessings have you experienced from challenges in your life this week?

10.16.2011

Graceful Like a Chicken: It's Biblical

Did you know Jesus wanted to be Graceful Like a Chicken?


(Seriously, this is how you know that anything can be found in the Bible!)


But really, Jesus said it himself in Matthew 23:37: 


“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing."


You see, Jesus wanted to extend himself to the people: extend his love, his guidance, his forgiveness, his protection from the evils of this world, but especially his GRACE. He longed to bring peace to the people, gathering them all together in his love, gathering them all as one, as children, to a place where struggling rivals become loving siblings, where they became united as a greater whole. He wanted to do it like a hen would take care of her brood. He wanted to wrap them up and hold them tight, even in the face of danger; even at the expense of himself. He still wants that for each of us. Are we willing?


I had an interesting conversation a year or so ago with a reader of the blog. She had asked what happens when a fox gets into the hen house. (She was preaching on the above passage and needed to know the entire story. Could a hen actually protect itself, or its chicks, from a fox?) I wrote a local bird guy in the area and he said the fox would go in, take out one hen at a time and eat it and then would keep coming back until he had finished them all off. I am guessing that wasn't the image she had wanted. It is daunting. It is extreme. But I'd like to believe the mother hen knows what she is doing. She knows she cannot offer total protection from all that could hurt her babes. She only has so much to offer. So she simply gathers her chicks up, fluffs her feathers a bit and hides them, hoping the fox will not see them, change his mind perhaps, maybe just take her and leave her babies. She can keep them warm and secure under her wings. She can hold them close, loving them until the very end. She really can't protect them from physical death in this world. That death is inevitable. But she will be with them through the entire process, sacrificing herself when she must. 


Jesus wants to be like that hen, wrapping us in his arms, extending his grace to us all, sacrificing himself so that we might have life. He wants to extend his grace to us, like a hen to her chicks, if only we will let him. He wants to be full of grace, in fact, he is grace; and he is grace-filled, graceful, like a chicken. See?

Ok, lightening hasn't struck me down so I think I am in the clear. Phew! But, here is a video that shows the powerful love of a chicken. (I don't remember if I have posted it in the past. It's a a wee bit long-winded and a little corny but then again, so am I.) Enjoy!

10.15.2011

Fixing Chicken Mistakes

Tonight I made Honey Baked Chicken for dinner. It is a family favorite straight out of the Mennonite Cookbook: More For Less. I loved it as a child and still do now as an adult, even when it is slightly overdone, like tonight. As we ate, Kurt began telling the children about his upcoming hunting trips.

"Next week, I will be going Grouse hunting. Do you know what a Grouse is?" he asked, followed by a round of no's.  "Grouse is a type of bird. We have to hope that I catch some this time so that I can bring them home and we can eat them," he said.

"Da-ad! I am NOT eating a bird!" Lily exclaimed, chicken in hand.

"Lily, you are eating a bird right now," we told her, explaining that chicken is a bird.

"Yeah, but chickens don't fly so they aren't like a real bird," Aidan said. What? What did you say kid? But before I had time to disown him, Kurt went on:

"Lily, they are going to die anyway so we might as well shoot them so that we can eat them," he said.

"Nice, Hun," I said, thinking through that logic and applying it to other things that "are going to die anyway" and why we don't eat them.... "And Aidan, chickens are real birds and they can fly, just not very far, or high, and they don't do it often," I corrected him.

"And then at the end of the month I am going quail hunting," Kurt went on. "Quail are cool because they are smart and know they will get eaten if they fly up so they run around on the ground instead. So we take hunting dogs who go chasing the birds up into the air and then we get to shoot at them." (Ok, I'm paraphrasing here but seriously, can you just hear the excited little boy in this? He then went on to talk about the well trained hunting dogs and how they are his favorite part etc. etc.)

The conversation then veered into when Aidan can learn to shoot guns (uh, never) to which Kurt told him he had to be 10 before he was allowed to learn to shoot.

"Well, my cousin had her boys shooting at like 5," I said, not making a good case for the gun ban I plan to impose on the house.

"Yeah, that's your cousin and that's Florida," he said. True 'nuff.

After that, the conversation took a turn toward animal intelligence, specifically dolphins and sharks and the bird talk was long forgotten.

Dinner finished up and I went to work fixing the chicken. You see, I had decided to use both boneless, skinless breasts as well as the usual leg quarters and I had overcooked the breasts slightly which of course dried them out a bit. But I have the perfect fix for overdone poultry which I thought I'd share with you (and no, it doesn't include the trashcan and try-trying again.)

Karen's Quick Chicken Fixer-Upper


Take left-over (or overcooked) chicken off the bone or if already boneless, just stick it in a glass baking dish. Cut it up into shreds.

Mix together a cup of mayonnaise with a half cup of shredded or grated parmesan cheese. Stir into the chicken. If you have a lot of chicken, you may want to double the mayo mixture. (Tonight, I had four thighs, a drumstick and four breasts left over which filled a 9x13 baking dish so I doubled the mayo and cheese.) It will look fairly disgusting, a bit like cat food, and my guess is the cat would love it but I wouldn't go there.

Smooth the chicken out so that it is flat and evenly distributed in the dish. Cover with a thin layer of parmesan. Bake at 350 degrees (F) for about 20 minutes, or until slightly browned on top and bubbling on the edges. The chicken will come out tasty and moist and no one will know it was ever overcooked. (You can also add breadcrumbs to the top before baking if you want to be fancy!)

This is how I use left over chicken to create a new meal. It is a crowd pleaser but I wouldn't go as far to say it is good for the waistline! And you can use just about any chicken: bar-b-que, rotisserie, grilled, baked. I probably wouldn't use Asian or soy-sauce based chicken but then, who knows.

Ok, that's all I got. Have a great day!

10.14.2011

The Problem With Growing Up in FL

"There is nothing to fear but fear itself."--FDR

And alligators. And anything resembling an alligator. And snakes. And sharks and....actually, I am not entirely sure FDR knew what he was talking about.....

After all the other Florida-related things I have brought up in recent posts (think alligators) there is yet another problem with growing up in Florida. Actually, come to think of it, it's still just the gators. 

The other night, right before lights out, I had a brief conversation with my mom on the phone. She was describing to me this rather large house spider that she and my nephew had found (think skinny tarantula without the fur, only found in Florida houses...and horror movies). Apparently, it was playing dead (like all sneaky spiders do!) and in her great wisdom, she decided to use the paper-cup technique for taking it out instead of assuming it was actually dead, which it was not. (And for those of you who are wondering why she wouldn't just smoosh it with her shoe, would you "smoosh" a large, squishy rat? Really?) Anyway, she is still alive to tell this story so she knows her spiders well. At any rate, she thought it might make a good blog post but I explained I had overdone the scary FL creatures posts. (Yet here we are, once again....)

That night I had nightmares of stealth alligators sneaking up on unsuspecting Minnesotan lake-goers. Good times. Really.

Then, while on my run the next day, I passed this fairly new sign at the Outdoor Center (a sign I have run by probably a hundred times in the last few months):

About half way around the lake, I started laughing to myself because the question dawned on me: Why does the Outdoor Center here in Eden Prairie, MN have an alligator sign? I was all "That is just downright silly! There are no alligators here in MN. What a goofy sign to have for the Outdoor Center!" So I had to circle the lake again to take a picture so that I could make fun of write about it on the blog. 

And much to my surprise, the sign was clearly not an alligator but a log. SERIOUSLY?! 

I thought, "Oh no, I have finally lost it!" But then I reminded myself, that no, I haven't. This is simply a basic survival instinct associated with being born and raised in Florida: The land of ten million gators. 

It is a problem none-the-less because when you see a log in the water, I see an alligator. Every. Single. Time. And I would have stubbornly fought with you that that sign was an alligator, not a log. (Of course, in my pretty lame defense, I'd probably stubbornly fight with you over just about anything....I should probably work on that....) And when you see a kid casually floating on a log (I am sure that happens somewhere) and think nothing of it, I would panic: "What does that kid think he's doing? Why is he riding an alligator? Call the police! Call the Coast Guard! Where is HIS MOTHER?!" 

She's probably at home busy not worrying because after all, this is Minnesota: The Land of Ten Thousand Alligator-Free Lakes. It says that on our license plates, too.....more or less. 

10.13.2011

Choices

“The most important human endeavor is striving for morality in our actions. Our inner balance and even our very existence depend on it. Only morality in our actions can give beauty and dignity to our lives.”--Albert Einstein


That, and a good run. Seriously, aim to do what is right and good and wholesome at all times. And then turn off the technology, take a break from your work, go out on a lovely fall day and take a walk. Go for a run if you can but no matter, just be outside. Stop your normal day-to-day life for just a moment and take in the scenery. You will be glad you did and all the better for it. 


Yesterday, I had to choose: sit at home and try to write for the blog or go outside while I only had one child with me and take a long run. What do you think I chose? 


I had my phone with me, tracking time and distance, and so I took a few shots along the way. I figure, I might not have anything valuable to share with you today, (hee hee, you might argue I never do anyway!) but I can share a moment of solitude, a simple snapshot of peace. I hope it helps you through your day as it did mine!















Breathe....Now, isn't that better?
(Hey, at the very least, this was short and you can now get on with the important stuff!)

10.12.2011

The Patrol (or How to Make a Football Player)

When Solomon started crawling a few months back, Liam quickly established his new role in life: Solly Patrol.

What we hear:

"No, Solly! No! No, no Solly! No chips for you! No Solly, no!"
(Obviously the item of interest changes depending on what room we are in!)

"No, Solly! You no toilet! No, no, get away!"

"No, Solly! No up there, no!"

What we see:


or


or


or


or


or



We're convinced that the day is coming very soon where Solomon will simply drag all two pounds of Liam with him. 

Have a lovely day!

10.11.2011

Long Overdue: My Sister's Wedding

I suppose I must start this story where most stories start: at the beginning.

For those readers who don't know, I have a sister. She is my elder by 7 years. She lives in New York; Brooklyn to be exact. And she is such a private person I hardly knew she existed until I was in high school or maybe it was college; I don't recall. We are very different in just about every way.....while she's trying to figure out how to afford living as close to the big city as possible, I am trying to figure out how to afford getting as far away, a farm perhaps??? (Hint, hint, Kurt, Christmas is coming.....hee hee.) But, I love my sister and the perspective she brings to our relationship. And I am assuming she feels the same, well, at least I think she tolerates me pretty well and can at least laugh at my lack of color-matching/fashion/design skills: the art in which she is so gifted.

On Friday, May 13 of this year (yes, Friday the 13th, wouldn't expect anything else from my sis) my sister got married to a great guy we have considered family for over a decade now. And as I mentioned in one of my B.Y.O.B.'s, I was fortunate enough to be there.

Going to New York was a big trip for me. Not only did I have to prepare for and leave four kids and my hubby behind (think frozen food shopping, appointment canceling and loads and loads of laundry), I also had to remember how to pack and travel with an infant. Not to mention having to fit into something decent enough to wear in a place where shoes and handbags are everything, a far bigger problem for me as it turns out.

The trip started with me trying to figure out what to wear, FOR THE PLANE RIDE. While I thought I had the wedding attire figured out (more on that later) I hadn't thought about travel attire.

"Why are you so worried about this?" Kurt wanted to know as I took off yet another outfit the morning of my departure.

"Because I have nothing to wear, nothing fits me yet (Solomon was still only a few months old) and even if it did fit, nothing is good enough for a place like New York where clothing matters," I said, more or less. Please note, at one point I thought it would be really funny to show up in pig-tails and patched-up overalls and, upon meeting up with my sis, embarrassing the daylights out of her with loud exclamations of "Gee sis, these bildin's are so tall.....they could be like ten stories up or somethin'!" as I snapped pictures left and right. But I digress.

"Karen, even if you could fit into all your nice clothes you wouldn't fit in to New York City and that's not a bad thing," he assured me. I changed back into my jeans (the ones with darned knees) and my favorite Graceful Like a Chicken shirt. It worked for me and so I let the worry pass.

Solly and I arrived on time to the airport. The woman at check-in told me I would be flying into Laguardia. "LAGUARDIA?" I asked shocked. "I am supposed to be going into JFK. Are you sure I am going to Laguardia?" (She was. Duh.) "But the SUV shuttle will be picking us up at JFK." She didn't even glance up. I felt like crying which is TOTALLY not like me, perhaps it was the hormones. My parents and brother were supposed to be meeting me at the airport, our planes arrived 15 minutes apart. But, you can't argue with computer reservations.

I called my mom immediately. "Mom, there's a little hitch in our plans. I am flying into the wrong airport," I said about to jump into a full-fledge panic.
"Where are you flying into?" she asked.
"Laguardia," I said.
"So are we," she said. I noticed the oxygen returning to my lungs and could feel my normal calm washing over me.
"Ok, well then the hitch is that our shuttle is scheduled to pick us up at JFK...but THAT I can fix!" Phew. What a relief. I put all my belongings on a chair and was getting ready to sit down next to them when another passenger headed to New York, dressed to the nines, came walking over and sat right down in. my. seat! I stared at her blankly. She was oblivious to me and the fact I was holding an unusually fussy child at this point. She didn't even notice as she hit my suitcase with her foot, pushing it away slightly as she got more comfy and continued her texting. Humph, I thought. She must be going HOME to NYC, I judged, for surely she isn't from good ol' MN....I convinced myself I couldn't sit with a crying baby anyway and then prayed that the fancy lady was sitting right next to me on the plane....I was sure I could keep Solomon screaming the entire flight if I had to. Just kidding, of course. Kind of....

Anyway, the flight was quick and easy. Solomon slept the entire way and quickly became my favorite traveling companion. Everyone loved seeing him (with the exception of the Lady in Black) and we got all sorts of smiles and engaged in entertaining conversation. It was delightful. My folks and brother were waiting for us at our gate and off we went to find our shuttle which was right on time. The only problem I encountered was while waiting for the car seat to come out at the baggage claim: I tried pulling my shirt down as it had bunched up under the snuggly I was wearing (which Solomon was sitting in) and I inadvertently stuck my thumb through the fabric, leaving a huge hole in my favorite Graceful Chicken shirt. Thank goodness for my new sewing skills! I was almost excited about the opportunity to sew it back together!

Our driver was from Egypt. We spoke of the recent events over in his home country and he told us, more or less, that people in America take freedom for granted. He came here to make a better life for himself because unlike so many other places, America allows that. Other countries, he told me, stifle individual freedom. It was a good reminder of how fortunate we truly are. He was interesting. And oddly, he picked up on my father's very slight accent right away.

"Your dad ees from Teeennessee, yes?" he said. Wow....he really knows his accents!

On Friday, we put on our best attire and met the rest of the family in front of the courthouse in Brooklyn where my sister would be wed. She and her new husband walked up in their beautiful clothing and gorgeous shoes (that likely cost as much as our monthly mortgage); she held a simple, elegant bouquet of gardenias. The aroma swept over us as she came close, hugging everyone and saying her welcomes. The excitement and tension mixed in the air as we walked to the entrance of the courthouse, half-undressed to get through the security scanners and then made our way up to the chapel. There were several other women in their wedding gowns getting married before my sister. It was a pleasant thought that the day was shared by many a bride and groom, by many a love story. The ceremony, though short, was just right. It was exactly what I would imagine for my sister. They said simple vows and then shared in the reciting of a Chinese proverb, back and forth, tenderly together. There was kissing and cheering and happiness all around.



After that, we made our way to The Flatbush Farm. (Woo hoo! Maybe we're more alike than I think!) The Farm is a neat little restaurant owned and run by a guy from Minnesota whose sister was our waitress (double woo hoo!). All the meals there are seasonal; all the food from organic and sustainably grown farms. And to top it off, it had the best coffee I have ever tasted: Ancora Coffee, a Wisconsin company. It was fabulous. Score for the Midwest!



Later that day, after my folks and I showed my oldest brother around Manhattan, we called my aunt who was going to meet up with us before dinner. She told us she would be wearing her red coat. Right after my mom hung up the phone, we were surrounded by a crowd of students all WEARING RED! I half expected them to break out in a flash mob dance but then that would have been too obvious I suppose.  Fortunately, by the time my aunt appeared, the tour group was gone and her red coat was easily picked out of the crowd.

We met up with the rest of the family, minus my sister, for dinner at another lovely place right down from Times Square. And of course it wouldn't be much of a trip without someone accidentally starting a fire IN THE RESTAURANT! You know, if you are going to have real candles, you might want to make sure the cloth napkins in the bread basket are not dangling over them....I'm just sayin'. Luckily, my father was paying attention and with the help of my uncle, only one napkin was charred.

One close call averted and we were off to see Times Square all lit up. On the way there, I noticed a bouncer talking to a small crowd right outside the Cass Theater. Robin Williams (you know, Mork, Patch Adams, Mrs. Doubtfire....Dead Poets Society, Good Morning, VIETNAM!) was about to come out from his live show. Now, I can count on one hand the number of entertainers I would care to see in person and he tops that list. So, touristy or not, I had to stop. Solomon was strapped in the front carrier and as Robin Williams walked out he turned to us, looked at Solly and said, in a way only he could say it, "Well hellooo tiny person." I was in heaven! He spoke to my baby which is basically like speaking to me since Solly was attached like an appendage. Woo hoo!!!

Even if celebrity spottings are commonplace in NYC, which from the sounds of it they are (as my new brother-in-law casually told me of Robin Williams: "Oh yeah, I run into him all the time."...probably getting me back for asking if his beautiful Japanese suit was from Target) my "New York moment" put a little more bounce in my step.
Robin Williams, taken with my phone...my dad got it on video on his iPhone but it got erased from my phone a few months ago.... :(
After that, I noticed how friendly people (tourists anyway) were to us. Everyone smiled at the baby. As a matter of fact, a nice French couple started cooing at him and trying to get him to laugh as we waited for the cross walk signal just moments later. She asked if I spoke French.

"Je m'appelle, Karen," I said and then pointed to the baby, "et he's Solomon....That's all I got."

"Uh, er, good to meeting you," she said back. We both laughed and went our separate ways.


The next morning came quickly and after a lovely breakfast at Juniors (known for their fantastic cheesecake but I also found their red velvet cupcakes to be superb!) we prepared for the reception. Now, the first day (wedding, lunch, dinner, etc.) was just family. The reception however was where we would mingle with the New Yorkers and all of a sudden I was feeling inadequately prepared. I was pretty certain I would be the only one there who could FOLD THEIR ENTIRE OUTFIT into a suitcase and still not have to iron it (go little knit dress!) And although my sister had told me it was casual, I knew she didn't mean my kind of casual...."good jeans" didn't qualify. She had said "bridal shower casual" and I'm pretty sure she meant Princess Kate's bridal shower, not mine. I had outdated-wedged-sandal-like shoes. And what I didn't know was that shoes are everything in New York. No one bothered to tell me that though. (Not that it would have mattered given my current wardrobe!) Now I've lived in many places, run in many circles and been judged on many things: how far/long/fast I run, the car/truck I drive, the kind of board I ride, the quality of violin I play, what concertos I have mastered, what senate and/or congress person's office I interned in, or didn't, what schools I went to, sports I played, music I listened to, how well my kids behave, how many I have, how I look in a swimsuit, the house we own, the lawn outside, what I do or my husband does, even the clothes or jewelry I wear....but in New York, it's all about your shoes.  Although mine are usually hand-me-downs and dated, these were from Target (and dated). Like my dress. My sister had also requested that no one wear black. So none of us out-of-town guests wore black.....Have ya ever stuck out like a neon sign? Thank God for red wine; it was a great party.

The weekend went by fast and I soon found myself at the airport, waiting for my flight home. I was wearing my very casual, brown plaid, cloth Sketchers (my "surf shoes"), which are actually guys shoes but who's counting?! I decided I needed a few more treats to bring the kids so while in line for a coffee I grabbed some cool designer cookies in the shapes of taxis and flowers. Having grabbed too much, everything started dropping from my arms. Another passenger ran over to help. She kindly set me straight and then looking back up said, "I love your shoes!"

"Why, thank you," I said, having now come full circle and knowing she must be headed in my direction to the place I comfortably call home.

10.10.2011

(Day 10) B.Y.O.B.: YOU!

Bring Your Own Blessing

So, I'll admit it: This thirty-one days of posting, well, it has not been as easy as I had hoped. There are dishes to do, laundry to fold, kids to feed, disasters to avert, critters to save (darn cat), lessons to teach, miles to run, etc. etc., I mean really, who has time to write every. single. day?! It has made me acutely aware of how much effort it takes to actually write and edit and rewrite. (Maybe I need to shorten it up a bit....hmmmm....) So, thanks for bearing with me through these first 10 days of the challenge. It's a blessing to have readers like you. Yes, YOU are my blessing. Thanks for sticking it out, even though this may not be my very best effort to date!

What blessings have stuck with you this week?

10.09.2011

Wrestling with God

24 So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. 25 When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. 26 Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.”
   But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”
 27 The man asked him, “What is your name?”
   “Jacob,” he answered.
 28 Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.”
 29 Jacob said, “Please tell me your name.”
   But he replied, “Why do you ask my name?” Then he blessed him there. --Genesis 32:24-29



And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." --Matthew 18:3 

A few months ago I preached a sermon entitled Walking With God. Now, while I am not a preacher in my day job (although my children might beg to differ) it was not a difficult thing to do because I believe the message I delivered. (That and I like a forgiving audience!) Seriously though, I believe we are called to walk with God an entire lifetime while trusting in His will for our lives and living that out to its fullest. Yet here I am a few months later laughing at myself (again) because while I might aim to walk with God in my everyday life, my faith is far more consistent with Jacob's wrestling match than with Mary's complete surrender, submission and total adoration. And while I know I am not alone, that doesn't necessarily make it easy.

I so often wish my faith was like that of a child. I spend quiet moments imagining what that might look like in my life, how that might transform my everyday interactions, filling them with an abundance of meaning and joy, simplicity and peace. And I am filled with envy when I meet fellow travelers whose faith is so solid and unwavering....and perfectly childlike. And I know that if I got to choose my childlike faith, I would choose a faith filled with the contagious joy and enthusiasm that we so frequently experience from our three year old, Liam.

You see, a few weeks ago, Liam was part of Bible Sunday at church; that is the day that our church gifts our 3 year olds and 3rd graders with their very own Bibles. I had told Aidan and Liam they would both be receiving their Bibles that day: Aidan would be getting his first full-version study Bible and Liam would be receiving the children's story Bible of which we already have three.

As the minister called all the children forward for children's time, I told the four kids to go on up and remember to be quiet and good. (Famous last words....) Liam wanted to take a pew Bible with him, not understanding that he would be getting his own. After convincing him to go empty handed and sit next to Aidan, he finally ran forward and pushed his way in next to his brother. They began handing the Bibles out one by one to the 3 year olds. Liam could hardly sit still. Ok, truth be told, he flat out couldn't sit still and by the time they had gotten to his name, he had already gotten up twice to come ask me when he'd get his Bible. When they finally called his name, he jumped up, took his Bible, and before sitting down, he lifted it up in the air to show me. "LOOK! I got my Bible!!" Beaming, he sat down, clutching his Bible to his chest.

They finished up and sent the kids off to Sunday School. Not wanting to lose his, Aidan dropped his Bible off with me. I tried to convince Liam to do the same but his arms tightened around it and he exclaimed, "No, ME read it, ME read it," and ran off with the others. As he exited the sanctuary via the center aisle, he told everyone, "Look! My Bible! I got my Bible!" He was very well received, to say the least.

When church was over, I went to get Liam from his class. He was still clutching his Bible. He refused to let me take it so that he could get down the stairs easily when we went to pick up the other kids from their classes. ("No, MY Bible!") He also wouldn't consider allowing me to hold it for him so that we could get back up the stairs in a timely manner so as not to hold up traffic. ("No! I LOVE my Bible!") And when it was time to go to the pancake breakfast, I told him he would not be allowed to eat if he didn't give me the Bible. ("No eat!") He chose to go hungry. All the while, he joyfully and excitedly stopped everyone we came across, eagerly telling them he had his very own Bible.

And as I thought about the irony in my fierce efforts to take the Bible away from my child, knowing that there may very well be a day when I wish he'd keep it just a little closer to his life, I realized that his is the faith I wish I had: a faith that clings to God's word even when the pressure is strong to just let it go; a faith that clutches God close while enthusiastically sharing the good news with everyone around; a faith that holds tight, holds on, holds us together, even in the face of hunger and pain; a determined faith of someone who knows they are loved and loved well.

Yet, like Jacob, I wrestle with God, in my questioning and doubts, in unbelief and disbelief. "Stop fighting me already, it's morning! Time to get to work," God says. Yet, stubbornly I resist: "Who are you? Please tell me your name," I ask over and over, not entirely sure I believe it. And while I remain humbled by my seemingly fair-weathered faith, I "cling to that old rugged cross," stubbornly refusing to let go. And even though I don't have all the answers (shoot, I'm not sure I have any of them!), and I mess it all up time and time again, I am certain God is with me in my struggle, perhaps even throwing a wrench in my hip ever so often, as He calls me forward, urging me to seek Him out in all that I do. And at the end of the struggle, God remains unchanged and I, changed for the better.

At least, I hope so. (But if you see me limping, you know why!)

10.08.2011

Left Hand Descending

I don't know if I have written too much about the teaching (violin and piano lessons) that I do in my spare time (insert chortle like someone who just snorted milk up their nose...or is it out? I can never get that one right). Somehow it must've slipped my mind in between all the other million things that seem to go on around here. Or perhaps it has been in half my posts and in my sleep deprived state, I just can't seem to remember what day it is much less what I have written.

At any rate, I had one of those "moments" recently while teaching. My student was trying to play a Hanon exercise for me but it became apparent very quickly that she wasn't quite ready for prime time, as my father is fond of saying. She could play hands separately just fine but putting them together, well, that was an entirely different thing. It seemed to get especially tricky on the descent. (For those of you who are not musicians, Hanon is a series of finger exercises for the piano in which you play a particular pattern up the keys a couple octaves and then back down again. Some say it is boring and monotonous but I find it almost mesmerizing, relaxing, rejuvenating even; like rocking in a rocking chair back and forth, or how some people must actually love swimming laps in a pool instead of just enduring them like the rest of us who choose to torture ourselves in that fashion. Again, similar to how some people feel about Hanon, but I digress.) At any rate, I kept having her repeat the descending left hand, then adding the right slowly to no avail. And it hit me that this is very much how life can be at times. You get parts of it right. You even get all of it right at different times but it's the putting it all together that can be so difficult to accomplish. There are times in life when things simply don't come together for whatever the reason. Sometimes it is no fault of our own. Other times it is. Quite often it's just juggling too many balls where any one of them alone would be easy as pie.

As I was working with her, I tried to point out how she had no problem playing the parts separately. Even though she was struggling to get them together, she definitely knew each part. She had successfully learned both hands. There is often success underneath our failings, little victories inside our fallings short. There is often plenty of goodness to uncover; sneaky bits of progress to discover just hiding in there. Sometimes all we need is someone to remind us that just because we aren't getting our hands together perfectly yet, we are not total failures. We have plenty to work with; we just have to keep giving it our best until one day we get it, whatever it is. Or maybe we won't but you know, some things, well, they're only Hanon.

It made me think of a scene from a few weeks ago. I had taken the five kids to play in the cul-du-sac down the street and at one point I saw Madeline prowling around in the neighbor's landscaping.

"Madeline, get out of their flowers," I reprimanded. "We don't walk through landscaping. People work hard to make their yards pretty and....." I was about to go on when she interrupted.

"Sorry, Mommy. I was just looking at the beautiful butterfly," she said so innocently as this enormous butterfly came darting up from the yard and right toward where I was standing with Solomon, nearly hitting me in the face. She went chasing after it as my heart dripped from the dagger I pictured plunging into it. When do we stop chasing the butterflies? Heck, when do we stop even noticing them?

Fleeting are those moments. How easy it is in the hustle and bustle and worries of this world to miss the forest for the trees. How easy it is to get stuck on the flailing Hanon exercises of life. How easy it is to feel like we have failed miserably when really, we just need a little more time, a different focus, a certain someone who is willing to believe in us and rejoice in our little successes, regardless of our inability to "get it all together" presently. Perhaps recognizing our need to stop and enjoy the butterflies gently drifting by is what it's all about anyhow. Perhaps sometimes the left hand descending is good enough all on its own.

(Of course, it's a good thing my student doesn't read this blog because I'm totally making her do it again and again and again! Because sometimes what we need is someone to help us get it right when we can't seem to do it all by ourselves!)