Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas

Joy to the world! the Lord is come;
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
and heaven and nature sing,
and heaven and nature sing,
and heaven, and heaven and nature sing.

Joy to the earth! the Savior reigns;
Let men their songs employ;
while fields and floods,
rocks, hills and plains
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat, repeat the sounding joy.

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessing flow
far as the curse is found,
far as the curse is found,
far as, far as the curse is found.

He rules the world with truth and grace,
and makes the nations prove
the glories of His righteousness,
and wonders of His love,
and wonders of His love,
and wonders, wonders of His love.

Monday, December 24, 2007

"It was not a silent night..."

God was made man. He was born. Of a woman.

I wanted to post a picture of it, but they were all too serene. Every year, as I approach Christmas Eve, this amazes me more and more. Our portrayals of it are so inadequate, as anyone who has gone through childbirth can tell you. But others have said it so much more beautifully than I. If you want some good material for meditating on Christ's birth, go and read this post by Catherine, which is in my top ten blog posts ever list. And then listen to Andrew Peterson's Labor of Love, as sung by Jill Phillips. I am posting the lyrics below.

God was made man. He was born. Of a woman. I can only sit in silence and gratitude. There is no other story like it.

It was not a silent night
There was blood on the ground
You could hear a woman cry
In the alleyways that night
On the streets of David's town

And the stable was not clean
And the cobblestones were cold
And little Mary full of grace
With the tears upon her face
Had no mother's hand to hold

It was a labor of pain
It was a cold sky above
But for the girl on the ground in the dark
With every beat of her beautiful heart
It was a labor of love

Noble Joseph at her side
Callused hands and weary eyes
There were no midwives to be found
In the streets of David's town
In the middle of the night

So he held her and he prayed
Shafts of moonlight on his face
But the baby in her womb
He was the maker of the moon
He was the Author of the faith
That could make the mountains move

It was a labor of pain
It was a cold sky above
But for the girl on the ground in the dark
With every beat of her beautiful heart
It was a labor of love
For little Mary full of grace
With the tears upon her face
It was a labor of love

Entering Adulthood

Yesterday was my 30th birthday. It was so busy, with seven hours in the car for four hours of "Christmas" dinner with my husband's grandmother and fam, that I hardly even thought about it. We had celebrated on Friday when my mom was in town. But I did tell my father-in-law on Saturday night that 30 is the new adult. Doesn't it feel like that, like our culture tells us we don't really have to get serious until we hit our thirties. Prolonged adolescence gets longer and longer. So...although I already have a husband of 5 1/2 years, two children, a master's degree, and a home, yesterday I became an adult. Time to get serious.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

On the Way to Bethlehem...

Friday, December 21, 2007

Patience and Peace in Advent

This has been an exceptionally good Advent, and I am not even sure why. We didn't do anything particularly different than last year, other than adding the Jesse Tree. In fact, I probably spent even less time in scripture and prayer, in intentional heart waiting, for His coming. So I am sitting here trying to figure out what is different. I think this is the culmination of my journey this year and the beginning of something new.

I am a control freak by nature. Since I am a homemaker, that controlling nature comes out in how I keep my home. I have spent the last five and a half years of marriage trying to keep a perfectly clean home, stay on top of all of the office work, take extra good care of the boys, and, in general, be in control of my environment. This year I have been learning to let go, to find peace in the chaos and stop living in a state of constant stress. Strangely, the house runs about the same, and when it doesn't, I don't get completely depressed.

This outward letting go is slowly leading to an inner letting go. So many bad things have happened to me and to people I love over the past few years, and I have spent a lot of time angry at God for not managing things better. Obviously, I could do a better job! But as these difficult things have played out and the fruits of suffering and waiting and enduring have begun to reveal themselves, I am seeing how very in control God really is. I am finding patience to wait on His plans and peace to rest in the waiting. This may seem like a little thing for you, but it is HUGE for me.

And so I came into Advent this year with a relaxed and peaceful and joyful attitude. There have been moments of stress, but overall I have just enjoyed the time. I haven't rushed to shop or prepare gifts or decorate, but those things have slowly happened. The pace of preparation has picked up in these last days, but I have not been stressed. Last year I would have freaked out that my Christmas decorations weren't out by now. But this year I just waited.

I took Calvin to see The Nutcracker today. (He loved it, by the way, and he was even more impressed that his mommy had once danced in it.) Somehow, that put me in the mood to finish up. And so tonight I set out the Nutcrackers, the creches, the other decorations. I trimmed the house with greenery and lights and candles. Now all we have left is wrapping gifts, hanging stockings, and putting the babe in the manger on Christmas Eve. It has happened, and I am not even sure how. I sure didn't have a plan, but I enjoyed the time.

Now if only I could prepare for my 30th birthday as peacefully and joyfully. Is it really only two more days...less than that. Yikes!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The Coming of the Light

I just talked to a dear friend today who has some sobering news. I want so badly for it to turn out well and end in joy, not sorrow. There seems to be so much sorrow and brokenness in so many places. The older I get, the more I realize that this world is broken. And the more brokenness I see, the more I must learn to rest in the quiet hope of Advent. While I want all of the problems fixed now, I must sit with the voice that says "Just wait. One day all will be made right. Just wait. One day all the sick will be healed, the dead will rise, the tears will be wiped away. Just wait. One day, the darkness will flee in the Presence of the Light. He will come..."

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:3-4, ESV)

Sometimes in my busy, self-focused life I lose sight of this amazing truth..the dwelling place of God is with man. He came to live among us. He will come back and set things right. God with us. Emmanuel. And so, for my friend, and for all of you, I offer the words of this very ancient Advent hymn. It's language may be a bit difficult to take, but it offers such a hopeful picture of a powerful God who willingly comes to live with us, to feed us, and, eventually, to vanquish the darkness. Let us keep hoping.

Let all mortal flesh keep silence,
And with fear and trembling stand;
Ponder nothing earthly minded,
For with blessing in His hand,
Christ our God to earth descendeth,
Our full homage to demand.

King of kings, yet born of Mary,
As of old on earth He stood,
Lord of lords, in human vesture,
In the body and the blood;
He will give to all the faithful
His own self for heavenly food.

Rank on rank the host of heaven
Spreads its vanguard on the way,
As the Light of light descendeth
From the realms of endless day,
That the powers of hell may vanish
As the darkness clears away.

At His feet the six wing├Ęd seraph,
Cherubim with sleepless eye,
Veil their faces to the presence,
As with ceaseless voice they cry:
Alleluia, Alleluia
Alleluia, Lord Most High!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

What's My Name?

I have never really liked my first name, and I would love to change it. The only thing that stops me is my love for my parents. I wouldn't really want my children to change the names we so carefully chose for them, and I wouldn't do that to my mom. Still, it really is a cheerleader name, and I am so very much not a cheerleader. (Nothing against you if you are one. I'm just too much of a klutz.)

I love my maiden name, though. I think it must be something about the Scottish in me that I identify so much with my family name. It was hard to give it up when I got married, even though it's a sort of boring name and my husband's family has a really great last name. I have always been a "Smith." (Nope, not giving out my real name.) I still am. I am learning to be a member of my husband's family, but I will always be a member of my clan, my father's people. It is just part of my culture. I will never be as at home with my in-laws as I am with my family.

Perhaps that is why this conversation with Calvin from this morning has stuck with me all day.

"Mommy, what name did you get?"

"Do you mean what did Nana name me when I was born? (Insert full maiden name here.) But when I married your daddy my name became (insert married name here)."

"And when you married me your name became Mommy?"

Well, sort of. He almost got it right, except for the marrying part. But it made me think. Who am I these days? I do often feel like my whole identity is wrapped up in being "Mommy." Even when it isn't, we are so close to my in-laws that it is wrapped up in being a part of that family. I love my boys. I love my in-laws. But part of me misses being a "Smith." I need to get home more often to remember who I am. My identity is not lost in that mountain landscape. I am my own person, but my identity is anchored there. Will you help me to save it?

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Peace on Earth and Goodwill Toward Men

So...this is a difficult movie review to write, but I really want to write it. My husband and I watched Joyeux Noel last night. We had seen it before, I think around Christmastime last year. This isn't a Christmas movie in the tradition of It's a Wonderful Life. No, it is a war movie about what was certainly the most sane moment in what may have been the most horrible of wars. If you have never heard of the Christmas Truce of 1914 on the Western Front of World War I, then you should definitely read up on it or watch this film. It is a story of what can happen when men stop treating one another like the enemy and start to see their common humanity. I am going to try to stay away from politics in this post, though Lord knows it is easy enough to go there when you are talking about a war movie. But I think there are serious enough differences between World War I and the war(s) that we are in now to make it difficult to relate this film to our current situation. That said, there are definitely still lessons to be learned from this film. Now, on to my "review."

First off, this is a brilliantly filmed movie. The colors, the framing of the scenes, the acting and the directing are all excellent. My only complaint on the aesthetic side was that dubbing of voices for the two actors who play opera singers. While I hate it when the real actor doesn't sing anyway, I especially hate it when the dubbing is poor. The voices of the singers were beautiful, but I got distracted by the off-time dubbing. This was especially bad because the power of music to unite people in the midst of war was an important element to the film.

Even with the poor dubbing, however, I give this film a strong recommendation. It is not an easy film to watch, but it is also not a typical war movie. I don't like war movies because they so often glorify the violence. Even World War II movies, in which I strongly identify with the moral right of the Allies, are difficult for me to watch. Even if our side was in the right and their's was in the wrong, the soldiers on both sides were people. They were men with wives and children and mothers and homes. Men who may not have believed in what their country was fighting for but who wanted to protect the people they loved. It is easy to take the moral high road when we talk about war between governments but hard to do so when we bring it down to the level of individual soldiers.

This film does just that. It takes the viewer to a specific place on the Front, to three units of soldiers, to German men, Scottish men, and French men, who have families that they miss, children they have not seen, and brothers who have died fighting in an ugly war. It begins as most war movies do, with a bloody scene of Scots and Frenchmen in a failed attempt to take a few hundred yards of ground by entering the recently shelled German trenches and pushing the enemy back. It was just before Christmas. People elsewhere were lighting trees, singing carols, wrapping gifts, and preparing feasts while these men were shooting machine guns and fighting a pointless war to preserve their "freedom."

I won't give a full summary of the plot, but as things unfold, an opera singer who is enlisted in the German army manages to get back to the trenches from a concert for his superiors and to bring along his opera singer girlfriend. In the calm of Christmas Eve, he begins to sing carols in response to a Scottish priest's bagpipes from the opposing trenches. Slowly, the singer and piper emerge from the trenches to face one another, the enlisted men begin crawling out of their holes to witness the miracle, and the befuddled lieutenants hold a meeting in the middle of no man's land and decide on a Christmas Eve truce.

The ensuing story is sad and humorous and profoundly moving. The men begin connecting, showing pictures of wives and girlfriends, sharing chocolate and liquor, realizing that they live on the same street that another stayed for his honeymoon. These men are Europeans, and they share so much good history. They have traveled in one another's countries. They know each other's people intimately enough to make jokes about their nationalities. The story plays to the funny stereotypes of each group, the rowdiness of the Scots, the snootiness of the French, and the seriousness of the Germans.

As the men crack jokes about one another and share stories, the ridiculousness of the war becomes clear. The truce extends for several days, and at one point the men play football (European style). This most light-hearted of scenes was disturbing to me. I recognized the scene, Europeans heckling and fighting a battle of serious proportions on the playing field. But this time it was in no man's land. It seems so ridiculous that the argument could have been settled by a football match. I know that is not true. I know that a lot of things led up to this war. But it makes me wonder what could have been done to prevent it. By the end of the film, the director makes it clear that the leaders of the war had to do some serious work of propaganda to continue convincing these people to kill one another.

Why did this truce come about so easily? What made this war seem pointless? I think the film shows three important elements that could have easily united these men. The first is music (or art). The truce begins with the sharing of music, and the opera singers play a significant role in uniting the men. The second is the presence of the feminine. As soon as Anna, the female singer, shows up in the trenches, the men begin thinking about things other than war. They talk of their wives and mothers and of the comforts of home. When the men enter no man's land and begin sharing, a significant portion of the conversation involves these things, the sharing of photos of wives and children, talk of home and the places they love. Anna sees the pointlessness of all of the lost lives, the widowed women and fatherless children. She stands as a voice of reason against the leaders of the army, whom we occasionally see feasting and partying, while remaining in ignorance of the mess in the trenches.

The final and most pronounced element that unites the men is a shared faith. One of the main characters in the film is a Scottish priest who goes to war to be with the young men of his parish. On the first night of the truce, he holds a mass which the majority of the men attend. This is the most powerful scene of the film. In the midst of the frozen, snowy battlefield where the dead still lie unburied, men who had been killing one another only a day before unite in a common language, the Latin Mass. "The Lord be with you. And also with you." With artillery shells going off in the background, these men unite under a God who loves them all. The ridiculousness of their fighting one another, believing God is on their side only, is revealed. As the priest later tells his lieutenant, “Tonight, those boys were drawn to the altar like to a fire in winter. Even those who weren’t devout came to warm themselves. Maybe to be together. Maybe just to forget the war.” Even the German lieutenant, who is Jewish, says that he will never forget that night.

But the portrayal of Christianity is not all positive. How can it be when the war was fought by people on all sides who claimed to be Christians and assumed God was on their side? In the end of the film, the priest is accused by his bishop of leading the boys astray. He is dismissed from the army and sent home. But before he leaves, he tells his bishop, “I sincerely believe that our Lord Jesus Christ guided me in what was the most important mass of my life." As he leaves the scene, he removes his cross, leaving behind a bishop and his church, while we hear the bishop in the background preaching a gospel of war.

While some would say this confirms the falsity of the Christian message, I did not see it that way at all. The scene of the Christmas Eve mass was so powerful. The message of the Nativity and the Cross has power to unite, even when people seek to distort it for their own means. And the following day, as the men decide to extend the truce and bury their dead, they say, "That makes sense, burying the dead on the day Christ was born. It makes sense." There is some understanding that the holiness of that day is more important than the war that they are supposed to be fighting. As the Scottish priest answered requests from Scots, Frenchmen and Germans to say prayers over their dead, I couldn't help but think of the promise of Christmas, a promise that has continued, that will prevail, despite all of our attempts to undermine it. A promise of "peace on earth and goodwill to men on whom his favor rests." Who are those on whom his favor rests? The Christmas Truce of 1914 made it clear that they are our brothers and sisters, those with whom we share a common humanity. Far be it from us to assume that some are more worthy than others.

And lest you think the makers of this film are total pacifists who think that all war is unnecessary and all people are inherently good, watch the end of the film and tell me what you think. You may not want to add this to your feel-good, happy, fuzzy Christmas movie collection, but I think I may make it part of my regular Advent viewing. It is a great reminder of the need for a Prince of Peace and of the power of hope and love and joy in the midst of suffering. Go watch it. Let me know what you think.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

End of the Week Links

I am busy re-watching a movie with my husband and in-laws which I may post about soon. In the meantime, I wanted to link to a few great posts of this week.

My friend, Catherine, wrote a great book review that delved into the bigotry on both sides of the Christian and atheist debate. And then Emily, at Wheels on the Bus, wrote this post in response. Both of them are must reads if you are tired of being put in a box for your beliefs, whatever they are. A big "thank you" goes out to these women for writing nuanced posts that I hope will inspire good discussion.

Em at Merry's Cloister doesn't post often, but when she does, you shouldn't miss it, especially her poetry.

Journey Mama has some great posts and beautiful photos of her recent trip to West Africa and the lessons that she brought home.

My dear friend, Elizabeth, is posting photos of her life in Montenegro. If you've never been there (and how many of us have) it looks beautiful.

There you go. I hope you'll enjoy these as much as I have.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Advent Update

I hope that my readers who are not Christians will feel free to read this and share their own holiday traditions. I would love to know what you do to make this time of year special or to read posts on your blogs around the time of your holidays.

It seems that my frequency of posting will directly correlate with the amount of attention and energy my children need. This week that amount has been huge. Calvin is going through a tough phase. Do the rest of you moms of little ones have this cycle of six or so weeks of great behavior followed by a couple of horrendous weeks? I think it gets slightly less horrendous each time, which must mean we are making progress overall. I don't believe in the "terrible twos" anymore, and I sometimes wonder where that phrase came from. I think it is more like a rollercoaster from eighteen months on. Hobbes managed to hit his first tough disciplining phase at the same time as his brother's most recent one.

Anyway, this is not meant to be a post about child development. Despite the difficult week, we have been having a lot of fun with Advent. Without meaning to, we have stumbled across traditions that are perfect for each child. Calvin is really enjoying the Jesse Tree ornaments and stories. Hobbes is too young to understand it, and I was afraid I had jumped the gun with Calvin, too. I don't think he is old enough to understand the idea of how all of these stories are leading up to the story of Jesus, but he loves stories. Even when I think he isn't listening, he is. I often see him hanging out by the Jesse Tree banner going over what each of the symbols mean.

Last week, when he was looking at the symbols, he pointed to the fruit tree, symbol of the Fall of man. We had talked about how Adam and Eve got to be with God every day in the Garden of Eden and how that changed when they disobeyed God and ate from the tree. I could see his mind working as he looked at the symbol, and he turned to me and asked, "Mommy, how did they get to be with God again?" What a great way to tie in the story of Jesus, and even of Israel and the tabernacle and temple.

(I am not brave enough to post pictures of the banner, though you can see it in the background of the opening photo. It serves its purpose, but I am pretty sure no one is getting embroidered gifts from me this Christmas! I am just not that crafty.)

Even though Hobbes doesn't get the Jesse Tree or remember the stories, he is definitely excited about the Advent Book. He LOVES evening prayer these days. He will point out the colors of the candles in our Advent wreath, and as soon as we start singing, he keeps saying "Abent book! Abent book!" We let him and Calvin take turns opening doors, and we reread the story from the beginning every night. I really love this book. It is so beautifully illustrated, and it is a great way to teach little ones the Christmas story through repetition. It is worth the money.

We are slowly beginning the process of decorating. My brother-in-law brought us a freshly cut Christmas tree from the mountains a couple of days ago, and it is sitting undecorated in our living room. I am going to use the extra greenery to decorate the outside of the house and prepare the places for our nativity scenes this weekend. We will put out the stables and shepherds and animals and will probably let Mary and Joseph begin a trek through our house the week before Christmas. We may even get the lights on the tree this weekend. Over the next eleven days, we will hang stockings, get out the nutcracker collection, put up more lights, and prepare the rest of our gifts and baking. We'll save the tree decorating for Christmas Eve.

I love the slow pace of this. In fact, I am loving it so much that I may write another post on it later this week. I will save the rest of my more meditative thoughts on Advent for that. In the meantime, here are three albums we are listening to to get us in the spirit of Christmas. We save the pure Christmas carols for the Twelve Days of Christmas (the 25th to Epiphany), but these three albums focus on the whole story of God's redemptive work through Jesus. Playing this music while I do daily chores has helped keep me in a meditative mood, making this time special and set apart. Suddenly, cleaning the kitchen is a way to prepare for the Christ child, not just my usual Thursday routine.

Handel's Messiah

The Birth of Jesus by John Michael Talbot

Behold the Lamb by Andrew Peterson

What about you? How are your holidays shaping up? What music do you listen to this time of year? We are always looking for really good Christmas carol CD's, so I would love to hear your recommendations.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Your Christmas Present to Me

I'm not asking for much this year. If you enjoy reading my blog, please read this post by a fellow blogger, follow her links, and take action to help protect the mountains I love. And leave a comment to let me know you did it (lurkers, too). Really, it only takes a few minutes of your time to send some e-mails to congressmen and your power company, and it could save some of the most beautiful land in our country. Feel free to leave a link in the comments for me to return the favor or to link this to your own site.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

"Taking Care of You"

Being a mom of preschool aged children is exhausting. It just is. There is no getting around it. I have an amazing husband and amazing family of in-laws who help me a lot, and I am still exhausted a good portion of the time.

Yesterday was a full day. I spent the morning raking the yard while the boys played outside and the husband studied. I had planned to go get a haircut (peace at last) while the boys napped, but my husband had a group project at school that meant he had to drop the boys off at my hairdressers' while he went to campus. It was a recipe for disaster that called for only one thing, a bribe. It worked, but after I was done, I had to take two very tired boys to Chick-fil-A to get a milkshake. We got home late, Calvin never napped, and Hobbes screamed himself to sleep in my arms. I was done by dinner time. We all were.

So we had our first ever family movie night. We pulled out the sofa bed, grabbed some blankets and pillows, popped some corn, and watched The Muppet Christmas Carol. I'm not sure Hobbes watched much of the film, but it didn't matter. We had the most amazing hour and a half of being together without interruptions. After the film, the boys were completely content to cuddle with me on the sofa bed. They never go to sleep that easily. I lay there with Hobbes curled up on one side and Calvin on the other, both leaning over to kiss me occasionally until they fell asleep. Today was fun, too. We spent most of the afternoon traipsing around my in-laws' property, jumping on the trampoline, cracking pecans on the bridge near the waterfall, just enjoying the beautiful and unseasonably warm day.

But even in the fun times there are diapers to change and owies to kiss and tired children to carry. There are words of caution to utter and words of love to whisper. There are shoes to tie and spilled drinks to clean up and rocks to take out of mouths. There are popcorn kernels to clean out of the couch and stained clothes to spray and throw in the hamper for one more load of laundry. There are bites to count at dinner and small bodies to scrub clean. So much of my life is taking care of others, and even on a great weekend like this one, I enter the new week tired.

This is what was going through my head when we came back to my in-laws' for dinner this evening. I sat for a moment of peace while the boys dumped out the treasure chest of Duplos. It wasn't long before I heard Hobbes' little voice, "Mama! Mama! Mama!" I looked over to see what he wanted. He had turned on my mother-in-law's foot massager and was pointing to her chair. "Mama, chair. Mama, chair." He wanted me to sit down at her chair and put my feet in the massager. I was happy to oblige. As soon as I sat down, Calvin ran over. (Oh, no! what did he want? Just a minute of peace, please.) "Mommy, I just want you to relax right now." And it gets better. At bedtime, Calvin kept leaning over to give me kisses. At one point, he put his little arms around my neck, gave me as big a hug as his undersized three-year-old body could muster, and said, "I'm just taking care of you." Sometimes, just sometimes, the world turns upside down in the most wonderful of ways.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Coming Up Empty

This has been a busy (sometimes difficult and sometimes fun) week around our house, and I haven't had time for much deep thought. I have some potential posts floating around in my head, but none have come to fruition.

I did, however, just read the most amazing article on barrenness and adoption in Christianity Today. CT and I have an on-again, off-again relationship, but this article was one of the best pieces of writing I have read in a long time. If you are a woman and a Christian, you should definitely read this. I don't care if you are single, a biological mother, an adoptive mother, or something else. This really is one of the most profound theological pieces on motherhood that I have read in a long time. Right up there with my favorite pregnancy book. And I don't think just women or just Christians should read it. It is really that good.

Read it already! And let me know what you think.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Santa Claus and the Gingerbread Army

After my post on Advent, some of you asked what our family does about Santa Claus. Since today is Saint Nicholas' Day, I think I'll tackle the subject. I know there are debates out there about whether or not parents should "lie" to their children and make them believe in someone who doesn't really exist, and I have no intention of getting involved in those debates. I grew up believing in the jolly fellow with a red hat. He was an important part of my Christmas experience until my loving older brother pointed out that Santa's handwriting looked a lot like Mom's on a piece of paper from Dad's desk. (He got in trouble for that one.) My husband's family did not do the Santa Claus thing, and we both seemed to turn out just fine. At least I think we are fine; we don't need therapy for any lingering Christmas issues.

With that out of the way, I will say that we have chosen not to do Santa Claus in our family. As we have become more interested in church liturgy and celebrating the seasons of the church calendar, we find that there are already plenty of people and things to celebrate. We have an Advent wreath and Jesse Tree Banner for Advent, a special breakfast on Santa Lucia Day, slow decorating throughout December, putting the ornaments on the tree and Mary and Joseph in the stable on Christmas Eve, waking up to one present under the tree and Baby Jesus in the creche on Christmas morning, small gifts every day for the twelve days of Christmas, and a galette des Rois to eat and the wise men joining the nativity scene on Epiphany. With a list like that, we don't have room for Santa Claus.

Today is Saint Nicholas day, however, and I decided to teach Calvin a little about the man that inspired the Santa Claus legend. On Tuesday, I made gingerbread dough and refrigerated it overnight. Yesterday afternoon, the boys and I rolled it out and cut and baked gingerbread men. (The actual tradition is spice cookies baked in a Saint Nicholas mold. Too hard for me!) Much to my surprise, the dough recipe made an army of gingerbread men. We had a ton of fun decorating them with icing and M&M's this morning and delivering them as gifts to friends, in the spirit of St. Nicholas. We also read a book about the real man's life. I even had the boys leave out boots last night, and they found a clementine and a Cars car for each of them this morning. (For more about the Cars obsession, read this post.) If you want to know more about Saint Nicholas and ways to teach your children about him, go here.

So that is how we do Santa Claus in our house. So far, Calvin and Hobbes really have no idea who the guy in the mall is, and they greet questions of "What is Santa bringing you this year?" with a blank stare. I am hoping we can keep it that way for a while, lest we become those parents, whose kids send classmates home weeping because they insist that Santa isn't real.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on Saint Nick. Did you have him in your home growing up? What traditions do you have surrounding Santa Claus or Saint Nicholas' Day? What do you plan to do with your own children? If you don't do Santa Claus, how do you handle that around other children who do believe in him? I'm looking forward to reading your ideas. In the meantime, I'm going to take down that gingerbread army, one cookie man at a time. Run, run, as fast as you can, little man. I'll still get you.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Which Came First....?

I've only been away from this blog five days, but after trying to post every day in November, it feels like an eternity. I had a wonderful Advent Retreat with the ladies from my church this weekend and may write more about that later. I also finished my Jesse Tree banner and may get brave enough to post pictures. In the meantime and in lieu of anything witty or intelligent to offer, I give you some of the latest Calvinisms.

My husband got to step into my shoes while I was away this weekend. He rarely has the boys on his own, so I'm sure there are many stories from that 24 hours that I won't ever hear. But this exchange was good for a chuckle:

Daddy: "Calvin, I asked you to pick up the toys. Why didn't you pick them up? "
Calvin: "Well, Daddy, life is just like that sometimes." (Oops! Wonder where he heard that one?)

And today in the grocery store, Calvin solved one of the greatest questions of all time. In way of background you should know that we try to buy meat and eggs only from animals that have been treated well. The boys and I call our whole chickens "happy chickens." In this case, I was looking for the eggs from cage free chickens.

Me: "There they are, happy eggs. Happy chickens make happy eggs."
Calvin: "No, mommy, happy eggs make happy chickens."

There you have it. The egg came first.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

And the winner is...

...Kara! In truly biblical fashion, that last (entry) shall become first (place winner). I had the help of a talented three-year-old in choosing the name out of bag. Giving stuff away is fun! (So is using the word "stuff".) I may try to do it again.

For those of you who didn't win, there's still time to order your own before Advent begins. The first day's activity is making an advent wreath, and you don't really need the book for that. I'm working on a Jesse Tree banner from this book, with some modifications to the scriptural references and symbols. My husband is really into reading the Old Testament christologically, so he was all over this one. Since there are tons of variations on which scriptures to use, he thought it was okay to modify this one a bit. I'll try to post pics once I get it done.

And go check out the Advent Carnival at At a Hen's Pace.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Conversations at My House

I love being an Anglican, but my husband has taken his love of all things liturgical and sacramental to a completely different level. We have icons in our house, we are strict about waiting to do Christmas until Christmas Eve, and we change decorations (at least tablecloth colors) with the seasons of the Church calendar. It's no surprise that our boys are catching onto these things. Listen in to life at my house...

Calvin: "Mommy, what do those people have on top of their car?"
Me: "That's a Christmas tree, they are taking it back to their house for Christmas."
C: "But it isn't Christmas yet. When does Advent come?"
Me: "It starts on Sunday."
C (every day since that conversation): "Oh! I can't wait for Advent to come. Then we can get ready for Christmas! When is Advent coming? I want to light to candles. On Christmas we can light the white candle!"

Who needs Santa when you have the white candle?

C (while watching Daddy stain the cross we use in prayer): "Oh, I do not know if I like that."

Daddy: "Don't you like the nice, dark color I'm making the cross?"
C: "I do not like it, but I think I love it. But I don't like it."
Daddy: "Calvin, you're having some complicated emotions over my staining this cross."
C (singing in the living room later): "Oh, my complications, complications, oooh."

How many kids are attached enough to a cross that they have to sing about their complications over it?

And, Hobbes, lest he be left out, is also learning to be attached to our liturgical symbols. Tonight, as we were putting away the cross, candles, and icon we had out for prayer, he grabbed the icon and said, "Mine! My i-dawn!" The child only has 40 or so words, and "icon" is one of them?

Welcome to my crazy world. I love it, though. Having my kids fight over who gets to put the cross and icon back is much better than having them fight over a product tie-in toy from the latest movie.

Monday, November 26, 2007

My Life in Music Part 2: Years of Darkness and Light

As I started thinking about the soundtrack of my high school and college years, I came up with a list of songs that was way too long. That’s not surprising, music was always playing, in my car, in my room, in my headphones, at concerts. There is always a song playing when I return to a memory from those years, and though my memory may sometimes insert the incorrect song, that is only because it has such a large collection from which to choose. This part of my story may seem disjointed, but isn’t that appropriate? This is the time when we are “finding ourselves” and the intensity of emotions involved in that search doesn’t always lend itself to clear memories.

I left middle school behind and started my journey toward becoming my own person, not someone just lost in the crowd. I said good-bye to pop music and started the only place I knew to look for some good sounds, my dad’s album collection. I discovered Abbey Road and found my voice. I had found the soundtrack of my life, unfortunately I was living in the wrong era. Thankfully, I found some friends who were, too, and memories were made, for better and worse.

This part of my story could be a novel, so instead of a narrative, I offer a playlist, with a few songs from my generation thrown in for good measure.

Brown Eyed Girl, Cecilia, and Blue Sky (by the Allman Brothers) are long nights with two older boys and my neighborhood girl friend, driving around in my mom’s Jeep Cherokee, singing and talking, stopping to climb on old railroad bridges, driving up to the mountains to watch the stars fade and the morning fog roll in, or finally giving up to go home and watch The Breakfast Club and talk until we all fell asleep on the couch.

Jewel’s You Were Meant for Me and James Taylor’s Sweet Baby James are getting in the car at a playground, late at night, after a heartbreaking kiss from one of those older boys, a dark, brooding, poetic boy who would one day truly break my heart.

Ramblin’ Man is a July 4th Allman Brothers concert at World’s Fair Park in Knoxville with that same boy and his college roommates.

The entire U2 Joshua Tree album is wanting so badly to get in that boy’s car and ramble across the country but being too responsible to do it.

Blessid Union of Souls’ first album is my senior year boyfriend and gang of friends, late nights watching stars from the boat in the middle of the lake, pizza after the football game on Friday night, staying too late at my boyfriend’s house and trying so hard not to get in trouble. A summer of carefree, mountain kid fun, no moonshine involved, trying to forget the dark, brooding boy away at college, and knowing that I broke his heart on purpose because he scared me.

The Bridge by Eddie from Ohio is newfound freedom my senior year of college, dancing with new friends at my first InterVarsity retreat.

Gillian Welch, Lyle Lovett, and Townes Van Zandt are discovering new music with my dad and going home to the mountains for concerts at the Down Home.

Long December by the Counting Crows is going to Tucson for Spring Break to visit the boy, hoping I can hide how much I like him while I listen to him talk about the girl of his dreams, sitting out in the desert at night and looking up at the stars, feeling as arid as my surroundings.

The Sound of Silence is the summer after my freshman year, when that boy came back and kissed me and we lay in the grass watching the stars and saying so much without saying anything. Funny, I can’t really remember any other songs from that summer, just words like “marry” and “forever” and “Arizona.”

April, Come She Will is sitting in my dorm room that September, reading a way too short and impersonal e-mail after weeks of silence while my insides go numb.

There is too much dark and depressing and melancholy music too mention from the next few years, but there were some moments of light. Bobby McGee is my crazy friend Katie doing her Janis impersonation at an InterVarsity retreat and making me laugh. Closer to Fine by the Indigo Girls is my roommates and high school friends coming together for front row seats at the Indigo Girls concert. Like a Rolling Stone is driving two hours with Mary from Minnesota to see Dylan in concert with a bunch of folks our parents’ age. The Weight by The Band is my Southern Lit class taking a road trip to Oxford, pouring a libation on Faulkner’s grave, and drinking too much Jack and Coke in his honor. Nanci Griffith and the Floating Men are road trips up to the mountains, just to get away from the darkness for a while.

And Lucinda Williams and Dar Williams are trying to get over him by running off to Europe for the summer before beginning my “real life.”

At some point after college, I threw out a lot of that music that reminded me of him, and I started over. I moved into a commune and learned to trust people, I entered a healthy relationship with the man I was to marry, I actually got married, and I have two beautiful boys. I still love music and enjoy introducing my boys to it. We started with bluegrass, Rich Mullins, and Johnny Cash. And as I settle into a life that is less dramatic and more secure, I am rediscovering some of my old friends. I'm making my Dad proud by teaching my boys the Beatles and singing them to sleep with Simon and Garfunkel. Thanks to the internet, I may even buy a few of those songs back from the darkness and give them some new memories.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Football Hangover

I have been nursing a football injury today and recovering from an exhausting day of football watching. No worries, it's just a bruised hand, and I should be completely better by the time the SEC championship game comes around. (Feel free to laugh.)

As I slammed my fist into hard objects and watched my team play into four overtimes yesterday (and win!!!), I commented that I would hate to be the kicker. Games so often come down to a field goal or an extra point, especially in overtime. Having just made that observation, I read this post by my friend Farrah. It seems I am a football kicker, or at least a lot like one. I'd love to hear what you think, and I'm sure my friend would, too. Go on over and add your thoughts on the pressures of motherhood.

And don't forget my giveaway! All you need to do is leave a comment on my post with your e-mail address if I don't have access to it through your blog.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Looking For Gifts and an Advent Giveaway

Today I am loving the internet. As I sit here watching my team play football, I have done almost half of my Christmas shopping. How beautiful! To be fair I should tell you that we keep Christmas really small. Outside of our immediate family, most people get cookies or homemade hot cocoa mix, so there aren't a ton of gifts to buy. But if you are looking for good gifts for the children in your life, I highly recommend checking out this blog. She has some great suggestions for high quality toys with long-lasting appeal and no lead paint. I had already planned to get my boys the parking garage she mentions as their one big present, but there are some other great ideas.

In the spirit of the season, I am sponsoring my first giveaway. I have already written about what our family does for Advent. If you are interested in some fun activities for Advent and Christmas, Before and After Christmas is a great book. It has activities and scripture readings for each day of Advent and the Twelve Days of Christmas. I have no idea how to do Mr. Linky, and my HTML savvy husband is elsewhere. So let's do this the old-fashioned way. Leave me a comment and make sure I have an e-mail address to contact you. Help me to make this a real contest by linking to this post on your blog if you think your readers would be interested. The deadline is Tuesday at midnight. I will choose a winner on Wednesday the 28th so that I can get you the book by the time Advent begins. The Holidays have begun. May yours be joyous!

Friday, November 23, 2007

It's also a thought that, changed the world...

I picked up the film Amazing Grace tonight. My husband had already seen this film on the life of William Wilberforce, but I knew nothing about it. In fact, I knew little about William Wilberforce at all, other than that he had fought to abolish the slave trade. I highly recommend this movie as an introduction to his life. Ever since we watched the Horatio Hornblower series, my husband and I have been fans of Ioan Gruffodd, and he does an excellent job playing Wilberforce. Many other well-known British faces appear in this film, and the acting and writing are really fantastic. Even if they weren't, the strength of Wilberforce's character is so engaging that you can't help but be drawn into the film.

If you had a better education than I, you probably know more about Wilberforce than I did before watching this film. His story is one that should not be lost, and it is one that we can learn a lot from today. When I think of the causes that seem hopeless in this world, of the horrors in Sudan, of the children who work in slavery, of all of the injustice that exists in the world, I feel that there is nothing that I can do. In truth, we live in a world where instant gratification is the expectation, and we give up quickly if we don't see instant results. Wilberforce, in contrast, fought for his entire life to abolish slavery. His bill was rejected multiple times. He suffered ill health and spent his youth for the cause of justice. For whatever cause that we may seek justice, we can learn from the perseverance of William Wilberforce and his friends, from his willingness to get his hands dirty and to be in the world of politics in order to change things for the better.

Slavery did not end when Wilberforce's bill passed or when the Civil War ended; it exists in this world today. Injustice exists in our country and abroad. The basic humanity of many is discarded. There is much we can learn from our past. I will be reading more about Wilberforce, and you can be sure that my boys will learn about him and see this film.

Bonus points if you know the reference for the title of this post...

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving

I just wanted to say how thankful I am for my blogging friends, for the new friends I am making here and for my dear old friends, who live far away but keep in touch through my blog. May you have blessed day. Here are a couple of great meditations for thanksgiving.

Merry's Cloister on Thanksgiving and Sacrifice

Wittingshire with Lincoln's words at Thanksgiving

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

My Life in Music Part 1: Childhood and Early Adolescence

I was so excited when I saw the topic for this week’s Hump Day Hmmm. I have wanted to start a “Soundtrack of My Life” meme for a while, and since Julie’s roundtable topic fit, I decided to write for it instead. Unfortunately, I realized that my life in music cannot be contained in one post. I’m not sure when the other installments will come along, but today I offer you Childhood and Early Adolescence.

Music has power. It creates moods. It takes us back to a specific place in our memories. It heals people. It wounds people. It lifts our hearts up to the eternal. For me, music can be a way of returning to my roots, of remembering the people and experiences that have shaped me, of reminding me of lessons I have learned, and of taking me back to raw, real emotion when I feel that my senses are dulled.

My first memories of music come from my father, and his influence on my musical taste and experiences will weave this narrative together. More than anything else, music provides a way for me to stay connected with my Daddy. My first musical memories are of him rocking me in the chair in my parents’ bedroom, singing “Hush Little Baby.” Not too long after that, he moved on to old hymns. I had forgotten some of these memories until I had children of my own and began singing the same songs to them.

Hush, little baby, don’t say a word. Daddy’s gonna buy you a mockingbird…

Not content to leave my musical education at that, my father soon introduced his version of the classics. I’m pretty sure I knew the words to “The Boxer” long before I had any idea who Simon and Garfunkel were, and I knew tons of Beatles songs before I knew anything of John, Paul, George, and Ringo. Though my Dad tried to teach me to appreciate Bob Dylan, I used to tell him to turn off that “man who can’t sing right.” Appreciating Dylan’s unique style would have to wait until I was older, but Simon and Garfunkel were a good start.

…still a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest…

Some of my clearest memories of childhood and beyond center around concerts. I still remember a school night in first grade, getting dressed in my 1980’s fruit print shorts and shirt with matching pineapple earrings, rocking with my dad and brother under the speakers at a super-loud John Cougar Mellencamp concert, coming home way past my bedtime only to be thrown into the tub while my mom scrubbed off that sweet-smelling smoke. I wonder what would have happened if I had gone to my small town elementary school smelling like pot the next day?

...Oh, but ain't that America, for you and me. Ain't that America, somethin' to see baby…

Not to be undone, my brother also worked his magic on my musical tastes, making sure I learned to enjoy Prince and Duran Duran. I think I still have a few of those singles (in record form, mind you) stored at my mother’s house.

But somewhere along the way, I became a preteen girl, with preteen girl friends and terrible musical taste. Oh, how I wish I could leave this part out, but it is part of my story. It started out innocently enough, Michael Jackson and “Thriller” were all the rage. Prince was still in style, and I had their posters on my bedroom wall. But then THEY came along. If you were raised in the late 80’s and early 90’s, you know about whom I am speaking. New Kids On The Block. Yep, I loved them. I collected trading cards, went to concerts, stalked them in their hotel, and got a picture of Joey, my crush. Perhaps this awkward, cringing feeling that I have as I write that confession is appropriate. After all, this was the defining music of my preteen years, a time we almost all look back on and cringe as we think of the poor, awkward people that we were. Thankfully, this is not the end of my life in music. Keep “hangin’ tough,” and we’ll get to the good parts. Somewhere along the way, I realized that my parents and their music were much better to listen to than my friends.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

New in the Old

I'm feeling the need to have a little Thanksgiving Advent over here, preparing my soul and not just my meal. Because it is not a "holy-day" in the Christian calendar, I don't always treat it as something special. I often spend Thanksgiving doing nothing more than gorging on turkey and pumpkin pie and watching the best of all sports. I really want it to be more this year, perhaps because I am thinking of how to teach my children about the day. I want them to understand what it means to live with a posture of gratitude toward the One from whom we receive all things. We have been reading Thanksgiving books here and doing Thanksgiving coloring pages. We have even been singing Thanksgiving hymns for our evening prayer. I have been talking with Calvin about what it means to give thanks to God.

I interrupt these thoughts with a funny Calvin story:
Calvin and I talked today about all of the things we have to be thankful for, and I explained that we thank God for these things because he made them (or made us with the intelligence to make them). I wasn't sure how much he took that all in, but I should have known he was ruminating on it all day. At dinner tonight he asked, "Mommy, was God made?" Woah. Nothing like a little deep philosophical probing from a three-year-old.

I am thankful for that little mind, that never stops working, and for the ways that raising Calvin and Hobbes helps me to seek new meaning in old traditions. As we prepare to enter the feast, I am choosing to meditate on this:

His Steadfast Love Endures Forever

A Psalm for giving thanks.

100:1 Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth!
2 Serve the Lord with gladness!
Come into his presence with singing!

3 Know that the Lord, he is God!
It is he who made us, and we are his;
we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.

4 Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
and his courts with praise!
Give thanks to him; bless his name!

5 For the Lord is good;
his steadfast love endures forever,
and his faithfulness to all generations.

(Holy Bible, English Standard Version)

Monday, November 19, 2007

Moody Blues

My mind is void of deep thoughts tonight, so I give you a snapshot of life with Calvin.

During his bath tonight, Calvin got in trouble for dumping water out of the tub when I had just told him not to do so. In the middle of his punishment, Calvin cried, "I don't like the mood I am in! I don't want to be in this kind of mood! Make the mood go away!"

Melt my heart! How do you discipline someone like that? We instantly wrapped him in a towel and cuddled with him on the couch to make his "mood" go away. It's amazing what comes from the mouth of a three-year-old who can articulate like an adult. It sure gets him out of a lot of punishment because we can talk things through with him.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

"He's Pushing the Earth Down"

I probably shouldn't get into politics on this blog. I am pretty disillusioned with politicians in general, but I have been impressed with Mike Huckabee in his interviews. He seems like a smart guy who has a balanced view. I know he has a long shot, but this video totally makes me want to vote for him. (Qualifier: I am not against folks coming into our country to earn money. But Chuck against the terrorists makes me happy!)

Friday, November 16, 2007

Advent with Little Ones (By Request)

It's technically still Friday, but this counts as my Saturday blog post. I'll be too busy farmer's market shopping, playing with my boys, and having a recipe party tomorrow to write.

My friends Rachel and Farrah have both asked for ideas about doing Advent with little ones. We are just figuring this out for ourselves, so I am not sure how much help I will be. I definitely recommend searching the blogosphere and internet for Catholic and Anglican family ideas. But here is what did last year and what we hope to do this year. Don't get overwhelmed. We aren't doing all of this. It's best to start small and focus on a couple of things.

Advent Wreath
I definitely recommend having one of these. You could get crafty and have your little ones help you make it, or you could buy one. I made one out of fake garland and red berries and nestled short candle holders in it. Put it in a central place in your home, either the dining room table or coffee table. We tended to do our Advent devotions after dinner in the living room, so ours sat on the coffee table. We may have to change that this year, since Hobbes will not be likely to keep his hands off of it. Wherever you put it, light the candle(s) every night during devotions or dinner. Calvin was so excited to get to Christmas and be able to light the "Jesus candle" in the middle. It is a great, tangible way to anticipate Christmas.

Books and Toys
I have heard that the Jotham's Journey trilogy is great for Advent. Unfortunately, they are out of print and expensive to buy. If you find them cheap, get me a set too! We have really loved this book. It is great for devotional time or for breakfast reading. Each day has a door you can open with a bit of the Christmas story. The illustrations are beautiful.

We also have a plastic nativity that we picked up at a garage sale. We leave that set up under out tree for the kids to play with. There are lots of options out there. I think you can even get a stuffed Advent wreath. I am hoping to find some more good Christmas board books, one to introduce every few days of Advent.

This depends on the age of your children. Last year, we used the Advent book for the boys and then did some readings our church had prepared for us. The boys are used to sitting through a decent amount of reading at night during devotions. We also used Advent hymns. If you really look, you can find quite a few. Focus on a couple that you can teach the kids. We did a different verse of O Come, O Come, Emmanuel each night. (There are about a gazillion.)

This year, we are doing a Jesse Tree with scripture readings. I ordered these books, and I am planning to eventually make these ornaments. This year we may just do ornaments cut out of paper!

Waiting For Christmas
This is the most difficult part of Advent in our culture. Everything around us is telling us to get up the lights, decorate the tree, start singing carols. A radio station here is already playing Christmas Carols 24 hours a day! Like I said, we sing Advent hymns until Christmas Eve. We put up our tree and stockings before Christmas, but we decorate the tree on Christmas Eve or shortly before, depending on where we will be Christmas day. We put up the stable for our nativity and bring the figures out slowly. I think this year we will have Mary and Joseph travel through the house, set the shepherds up across the room, and let the wise men travel (hide them around the house) from Christmas to Epiphany. Baby Jesus never comes out until Christmas.

The Twelve Days of Christmas
This is probably my favorite part of Advent and Christmas. We don't give our children a big gift bash on Christmas. We try to reserve this day for family. This year we are really looking forward to doing Christmas morning at home with just our stocking gifts. Of course, we can't avoid the gift insanity that happens when visiting grandparents! We do give our children gifts. We do mostly small gifts over the 12 days of Christmas, one opened each morning. We will do a couple of bigger gifts in there, with the biggest on Epiphany. This give the kids time to enjoy each present and makes Christmas Day more about celebrating Jesus' birth and being with family.

Rest and Relax
This is a lot of information. I am overwhelmed just looking at it! Take a few things that will work for you and go with them. There is a lot of information out there that can help. I would love to hear your ideas about what you are doing. Things will change for us every year as we figure out what works for our family. Mostly I love how Advent allows me to prepare for Christmas in a less-frenzied way. I try to get most of my shopping done before Advent begins, and I also try to minimize my Christmas party activities. I'll try to keep you updated on how things are going this year, but I also know that I plan to scale back blogging for Advent. Peace to you!

Going Strong for One More Day

Thanks to my friend Farrah's interview questions, I have one more post. We'll see how long I can keep this going. I have some fun plans for this weekend that may not include blogging. If you want me to send you some interview questions, just leave a comment per the instructions at the end of this interview.

1. What are three things you are passionate about (besides your hubby and children) and why?

I’ll try not to focus on the things you may already now from reading my blog. I am passionate about learning from different cultures. My husband and I are preparing to minister overseas, and I am especially fascinated to see how the gospel speaks into various cultures, not to make them more Western but to make them even more true pictures of the diversity that God created. I love the variety and beauty of humanity and how it shows me different aspects of God that my limited, Western, individualistic mind can often miss.

I am also passionate about the liturgical traditions of the church. This is something I will blog more about later, but this time of year gets me especially excited. While everyone else is out buying presents, putting up trees before Thanksgiving, and burning out before Christmas day arrives, the church calendar dictates that I sit back and contemplate. I love being part of the ancient rhythm of the church, using Advent to prepare for celebrating the coming of Christ, having twelve days of feasting and fun afterward, entering into Lent, and, most of all, rejoicing in Easter with a heart that is prepared. I missed out on these things growing up, and I love using them to teach my children about God’s story.

On a lighter note, I am passionate about good chocolate and good wine. Chocolate does not get any better than these truffles. And having in-laws who lived in France for three years means that I am learning all about good wine and getting to taste plenty of it.

2. How has mothering Calvin and Hobbes been different for each boy and what has been the same?

I’m not sure it has been the same at all, except for the superficial things like changing diapers and making baby food. Each boy is so different. Calvin was a terrible sleeper for his first year. Hobbes was pretty average. Calvin was an early talker. Hobbes was early at everything physical. One is mentally draining, the other physically. And I can already tell that discipline with Hobbes is going to look very different than discipline with Calvin. That’s why my parenting motto has become “Know you child.” I don’t think any two children are the same, and you can’t parent them the same. Of course, that makes for interesting issues of fairness when they get older…

3. What is the biggest way you are like your dad?
Hmmm, this is a hard one. We are alike in so many ways. I will give one positive and one negative. First, I inherited my dad’s love for our mountain culture, from country ham to bluegrass, from mountain drives in the snow to the importance of family. Negatively, I am a huge control freak, just like my father, and stubborn as a mule. I guess the stubbornness has its benefits.

4. Favorite guilty pleasure
That would be wine and chocolate (see above). But for the sake of interest I will add another. I NEVER watch TV other than sports, but my husband and I just got hooked on our first ever reality TV show, Beauty and the Geek. I am embarrassed to admit it, but it is really good! The people in the show may actually be learning some valuable life lessons while stabbing each other in the back and competing for a fortune.

5. If you and your family are stranded on a deserted island for 90 days, what 3 things would you want with you and why?
Radio Tower, Hamm (sp?) Radio, my diaper bag. I’d want to make communication with the outside world and get out of there as quickly as possible. Anything else we could possibly need is in that diaper bag!

Now it's your turn. If you want to be interviewed, leave me a comment including the words "Interview me." I will respond by emailing you five questions. I get to pick the questions. If you don't have a valid email address on your blog, please provide one. You will update your blog with a post containing your answers to the questions. You will include this explanation and an offer to interview someone else in the same post. When others comment asking to be interviewed, you will ask them five questions.

Thursday, November 15, 2007


Several bloggers are using this month to write posts about things that they are thankful for. That is part of the reason I signed up with NaBloPoMo. (I'm as tired of typing it as you are of reading it.) But I think being forced to write every day made me enjoy it less. I am still hoping to cultivate some gratitude through writing this month, and today is a day to be grateful for so many things...

...for the rain that fell this morning

...for the moment of peace looking down at Hobbes' beautifully long eyelashes spilling over his fair cheeks after he fell asleep in my arms

...for Calvin's willingness to work on obeying a little better today

...for the beef and barely soup in my crockpot and the fun the boys and I will have trying to make homemade bread to go with it this afternoon

...for health insurance that afforded me some freedom from fear through a doctor's visit

...for my amazing sister-in-law who watched my boys this morning and loves them so well

...for a moment to read and drink my favorite drink at Caribou while I was out

...for a roof over my head and heat in my house as the temperature drops today

...for my husband who appreciates and supports me even when I don't do the same for him

...for so many things that I take for granted every day

It's just one of those days. I need to practice gratitude more often so that every day can be one.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

O, Death, Where is Your Victory?

I know I semi-resigned from NaBloPoMo, but this week's Hmm topic made me want to write. I may have another post in me tomorrow, may not. But I did have something to say today. We are supposed to be writing about loss in light of the recent devastation in California, where so many have lost everything they own. I have never been in a fire or other natural disaster. I have never lost anything of great material value. I don’t know what it would mean to be homeless or without possessions. But I will write about the loss that I do know, that of my father.

I will not forget the day that my Daddy called to tell me that he had cancer. It was July of 2003. I was in grad school in Illinois, farther away from my home than I had ever lived in my life. My husband and I had been married only a year. I remember that it was dark. I remember that I was so thankful for my husband’s arms holding me. I remember that one of my high school friends and one of the most amazing Christian women I know called me immediately after receiving my e-mail to pray with me. I remember immediately going online to find out all I could about multiple myeloma. I remember not sleeping much. And I remember more than anything not wanting to lose my Daddy.

My Dad was a doctor, a fantastic doctor, who never missed work for illness. He was so fit and chiseled that, in his late forties, he still put fear in the hearts of all of my guy friends in high school. But he was nothing to be afraid of, really. My Dad was a quiet man because he was shy, not because he wanted to be intimidating. My girl friends in high school knew this, and many of them called him “Dad” because they loved him so much. He was a good man, not perfect, but good. And I was his girl. We were (still are) two of a kind.

My Daddy’s battle with cancer lasted for a little over three years, and I think the loss and grief came slowly for all of us over the course of those years. When he died last September, however, it was rather sudden. He had been relatively healthy for the months before that, and the doctors were optimistic about an experimental drug that he had just started. We went home for Labor Day weekend, and I could tell something was wrong. His normally sharp mind was lapsing. He forgot that he had watched the football game with me that weekend. And he slowly became more and more delirious. Anyone who has been near someone dying of cancer knows that it is not pretty. That was the most difficult week of my life, and I don’t want to chronicle it here. I can relive it in bits and pieces, but not all at once.

Instead of focusing on the loss of my Daddy, which has been the hardest loss of my life. I want to write about what I have gained from his illness and death. The most tangible and beautiful things that our family gained from my Daddy’s illness are three beautiful children. My niece was born in May of 2004, and Calvin followed in August. Hobbes was born a year and a half later. I’m pretty sure that my brother and I would not have talked our spouses into trying for children that soon if not for my dad’s illness. I treasure the memories of my Dad being PopPop to my boys. Having grandchildren opened him up so much and made him smile more than I had seen him smile in my whole life before that. He taught Calvin one of his first words, “golf.” And Calvin still loves to watch and play golf to this day. I think he has his PopPop’s skill at the game. While I would love to have my Daddy back, I am so thankful for the light that my niece and sons bring to our family.

I gained less tangible gifts from my Dad’s death, too. During the three years that my father battled cancer, the thing that I dreaded most was his death. I was sure I could not face it, that I could not be there when it happened, that I could not see my strong, capable, intelligent Daddy slowly decline. I’m not saying that being there was easy, but it was a sacred time, a time when the veil between the temporal and the eternal was removed. As my Dad’s mind and body, the things that he had relied on to succeed in life, began to fail, his soul began to shine through. I could see him the way his Father saw him, flaws and raw beauty and all, the things that are now perfected in the Father’s presence.

As I have processed my Daddy’s death and grieved my loss, the Holy Spirit has granted me the most amazing assurance of eternity. I thought that the days and weeks and months after my Dad’s death would be ones of darkness and depression. I sink so easily into that state. But they were not. Instead of drowning in sadness, I found myself experiencing peace and joy, not happiness, really, but joy in the assurance of the truth. This past Easter was one of the greatest of my life. The realities of the resurrection, of Christ’s trampling down of death, and of His coming again to establish his new creation were so vivid. I will see my Daddy again. We will walk in our mountains again. He will play golf with Calvin and football with Hobbes. I cannot explain the difference except to say that I once knew about eternity and now I know of it. That is a gift that infuses all of my life.

This gift of eternal perspective spills over into the lives of my children. My children can learn now not to be afraid of death, to be sad, yes, but not afraid. Calvin often comments that he can’t wait for Jesus to come back and bring PopPop. He talks about Jesus and PopPop playing golf in heaven. I can tell Hobbes stories about a man he won’t remember but who is every bit as alive to us now as he was when he was with us on earth. My children will not grow up without one grandfather. They will grow up with the realization that their PopPop is more alive than even they are, just far away for now.

It is true, what the apostle Paul says:

Death is swallowed up in victory.
Oh, Death, where is your victory?
Oh, Death, where is your sting?

1 Corinthians 15:54-55

Go read the whole chapter. It’s a good one!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Throwing Away the To-Do List

My new dear blogging friend over at Bliss in Bloom just resigned from NaBloPoMo for very good reasons. I am seriously considering it myself. I signed up because I thought it would be a good way for a newbie like me to get into the world of blogging. But I am not as talented or creative as so many writers out there. I just don't have something interested to write every day.

When I do have something I really want to write about, I need more than a day to finish it. I am finding that this every day commitment is keeping me from writing really well about things that I am really thinking about. It's is so much like my life, where the mundane tasks of laundry and cleaning and paying bills can keep me from really living or thinking. I am a list maker. I can't sit down to do big things unless I get all of the unimportant things on my to-do list checked off first. And I need to break free from that.

And so...I may or may not throw away this insane to-do list called NaBloPoMo. You might hear from me tomorrow. You might hear from me in a week. You might not even need to listen, but stay tuned if you want.

Monday, November 12, 2007

My Favorite Things: Hobbes Edition

I figured I'd better do my post for Hobbes lest he read my post for Calvin 20 years from now and wonder why I took so long getting around to him. But where do I start? When I was pregnant with Hobbes, my husband and I wondered how we could possibly love another child as much as Calvin. Calvin had just started displaying his mad verbal skills and wowing folks with complex sentences and words like rhododendron at the age of 15 months. On top of that, he was a charming toddler, and his sibling was going to have a lot to live up to.

We needn't have worried. Hobbes is making his own way in the world and into our hearts just fine. He may still only say a few intelligible words at nearly 20 months, but he is no less charming than his brother. Those big blue eyes with the eyelashes to die for say plenty on their own.

Most of the time they say, "I love you. I love life. Let's have fun." From the moment he was born, Hobbes was a laid-back little guy. He took so long to cry that the nurses and midwives were worried about him. It turned out just to be his personality. He loves live and sort of wanders through it with a smile on his face. He is such a social little fellow, loving all his family members, pulling us around by the finger, crawling up on us to give kisses. He laughs all the time, and he loves to be tickled, begging for "more." His smile is infectious. He is so sweet!

Until he isn't. Hobbes is definitely my child, strong-willed and determined. Seems like a weird combination, laid back and strong-willed, but it is so true. Those times when the will sets in, his eyes give me a look that says, "I am going to do this. I can do whatever my brother is doing and more. I will NOT let you win this battle. Oh, and let me tease a few more gray hairs onto you while I'm at it." At the age of 9 months, he was playing in the backyard where we had just installed a new swingset. I turned my back, and when I turned to find Hobbes, he was at the top of the slide. He had crawled up the ladder after his brother and was standing dangerously close to the edge of the slide, putting one foot out, and laughing at me. I could tell so many more stories, and it is just going to get better (or worse) from here.

Strong-willed and loving life, that is my Hobbes. And that's not the only way he is like me. The kid loves football, or "duh-dow ball" (touchdown ball) as he calls it. He reads my Sports Illustrated before I can. He loves to be outside. But just so he has a little of his dad's family in him, he is an engineer at heart. He loves to figure out how things work, and he is amazing with puzzles. Hobbes is already getting the most out of life, and he will have no problem making his way in this world.

I never thought we could have another child as adorable and funny and lovable and smart as Calvin. I never thought I could love someone as much as I love him. Hobbes has risen to the challenge. He is just as amazing as his brother, and if you ask him, he'll tell you he's just as old.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Hot Mama and Sex Ed

Hobbes has been enjoying adjectives lately, though the only two he knows so far are "big" and "hot." His favorite of late has been "big." Everything is big, "big truck," "big ball," "big Dadda," and "big Mamma." Needless to say, I am not too flattered by that last one. Tonight at dinner, however, "hot" became the word of choice. "Hot peas." "Hot chocolate milk." "Hot Mama." Now that's more like it!

While Hobbes is working on modifiers, Calvin is off figuring out how the world works. Sometimes you can see the gears grinding in that head of his. We have sort of made it standard practice to answer whatever questions he asks to the best of our ability. When, at the ripe old age of two, he asked his aunt how a light bulb worked, she explained it to him. For months after that, he took great pleasure in telling people all about how incandescent light bulbs have little pieces of metal with electricity shooting through them.

Now that he is three, Calvin has moved onto more adult topics. He is currently obsessed with the idea of having another baby in our house. (He's going to have to hold out a while for that one.) Last night at dinner, he was talking about it yet again. When he stopped to think for a minute, the husband and I looked at each other and knew we were in trouble.

"But how does the baby get inside of Mommy?" he asked.


My husband rattled off something about Daddy planting the seed inside of Mommy here, and I am so glad Calvin didn't hear that. I'm not even sure what I answered, but we thankfully got onto the subject of how the baby grows inside of mommy. Much easier to deal with.

In retrospect, this would have been the perfect time for Hobbes to yell out, "Hot Mama!" Yep, that about sums it up.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Oh, Be Careful Little Eyes...

Do you know this old Sunday school song?

Oh, be careful little eyes what you see.
Oh, be careful little eyes what you see.
For the Father up above is looking down in love.
Oh, be careful little eyes what you see.

I was singing this to Hobbes as I was rocking him to sleep for his nap today. (There wasn't any football on TV yet.) As I sang to him, I realized what a great song this is for kids, it may just be one of my favorites. So often, children hear from us, "Don't do that or you'll get in big trouble" or "Mommy will be angry" or some other version of that. We hold out the threat of punishment or rejection in order to discipline instead of the promise of love. (I suppose I shouldn't speak for everyone here, but that is often my default in parenting.)

My pastor's wife spoke on the topic of love at a women's meeting this summer. One of the qualities of love that she pointed out was hope. I don't remember exactly what she said, but what I came away with was the idea of parenting our children by laying hope before them. Instead of saying not to do something because they will get in trouble, I can say that I know that God is making them into someone amazing and that they have the chance to begin growing into that person now. For example, when Calvin goes to hit his brother over a toy, I can stop him and say, "You are such a good big brother who loves Hobbes. Can you think of a better thing to do." On the few occasions where I try this, it actually works.

I think that God does that a lot in His interactions with His people. There is certainly plenty of discipline and punishment handed out, but he also always calls them back to the higher vision he has for their life. He renames people, he reminds them of his faithfulness to them, and he holds out the hope of who he is making them out to be. Imagine how different children would be if we loved them in the hope of who God is making them into, speaking that reality to them daily, and calling them to something higher, not just away from punishment but to a better way of being.

So I love this song, this message of which is "Do good, not because God will be angry at you, but because He is watching you in love as he molds you into the person he has created you to be."

Friday, November 9, 2007

My Favorite Things: Music Edition

Our family was at a house concert last weekend of a songwriter whom I really admire. He is a Christian and a d*** good lyricist who sings about everything from seeking to hear God to confessing a murder to your wife. He says his songs fit into three categories, "God, women, and geography." I'd say that just about sums it up.

Anyway, before we had to leave because of overtired kids, he took a break from singing to answer some questions. Someone asked him what he thought of the Christian music industry, and he didn't have great things to say. He said that it started out as a good thing for musicians who wanted to be able to mention Jesus in their songs but that it has turned into reverse censorship. In other words, musicians have to "go and stick in a few more Jesuses" in order to get their album recorded. For the record, he is not signed with a Christian recording agency, and he is not connected to that part of the music industry. But his songs are some of the most profoundly spiritually true songs I have heard.

So on the way home, as Calvin screamed that he would "never get to do anything fun ever again!!!!!" in the backseat, my husband and I tried to discuss where people like this singer fit in. Most popular labels won't take a guy who sings about Jesus and God in a reverent way, and the Christian music certainly wouldn't have gone for his murder ballad (which was our favorite of the night).

I started thinking about other singers who fit this mold. Nearly all of them were in my list of favorites, and nearly all of them fit in the ambiguous "folk" or "bluegrass" category. (The other categories that have this blend of the spiritual and troubling sides of life are the traditionally African American styles of music like the blues.) I hardly have to ask why this is. Separating spiritual life and "real" life was never even an issue for me growing up where I did. In rural Appalachia (and other poor, rural parts of this country) the rhythms of life and death, planting and harvest, marriage and childbirth are bound up in the spiritual truths that they represent. There is no sacred and secular. There is just life, and Jesus and God and the devil and the kinfolk all inhabit it in some way. That is why I loved that house concert the other night. The artist sang from a holistic life, where a murder ballad could stir my soul just as much as a song about Jesus.

On that note, here are some other musicians I love. Some of them are Christian, some are not. Some sing of explicitly Christian themes, and others sing and write of truths that are deeply spiritual because they are real life. There are many more than I list here. And I am always looking for new artists to add, now that I have entered the 21st century and use iTunes!

Gillian Welch
She may have been born in Hollywood, but that was a mistake. This woman looks and sings and writes like an Appalachian mountain girl. I never miss a concert if she is near. My favorite song is Barroom Girls, but there are so many good ones.

Doc Watson and Earl Scruggs
My boys have already been to concerts by both of these legends of bluegrass. A highlight of my summer was hearing Doc sing Nights in White Satan at an outdoor concert at our art museum. That voice is so good!

Andrew Peterson
He is part of the Christian music industry, but he tells a good story. Many of his songs are sacramental looks at everyday life without being overtly "Jesusy."

Rich Mullins
He will always be my favorite songwriter. I have yet to find someone who matches him.

The Cowboy Junkies
They will haunt you. Their music is often dark. But it is an honest look at life. Black Eyed Man has been a favorite album of mine for years.

Lyle Lovett
I love him. What else can I say? Calvin and Hobbes' current favorite song is The Truck Song.

The Indigo Girls
They are here if for no other reason than The Wood Song. I listened to them nonstop in my melancholy college days, and my devotion has cooled. But they still rank up there in my list of people who get it.