Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Reader Problem Solved

Sorry about the boring logistics, but some of you have had trouble subscribing to me in your Google Reader account. My computer genius husband fixed the code, and it works now. So go on over and subscribe. If you don't have a reader account and you read more than two blogs, you simply must get one! It saves so much time (or allows you to waste even more time subscribing to lots of blogs). Besides, how else will you know the minute I put up a new post!

Only At Our House

This was our dinner conversation tonight. It's a good thing this is anonymous or someone might turn me over to child protective services.

Calvin: I like beer. Can I have a sip of beer?
the Aunt: No, well, I guess...
me: You can have a sip if you eat all of your meat.

Hobbes: Wine, wine, wine.
the Mother-In-Law: You can have a sip if you eat all of your meat.
(Hobbes proceeds to gobble his previously untouched meat in a matter of minutes.)

Some mothers use dessert as a bribe. Here, we use alcohol. Bad parenting skills at their finest. I also let my kids have a piece of their Halloween candy before bed, and we may even eat apple pie for breakfast.

Disclaimer: The Aunt and I had one beer each, and Calvin didn't even actually try it. He decided it would be "too spicy" and he wouldn't like it. Hobbes did get a sip of wine. It wasn't his first, but he never gets more than a drop. My in-laws lived in France for three years, and we are all about promoting a healthy view of alcohol for our kids. We don't make it the forbidden fruit so that they will one day sneak it behind our backs, but we don't overindulge.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

A Perfect Day

My husband and I had been looking for a time to get away to the mountains this Fall, and this weekend it finally worked out. I admit that I was less than enthusiastic about it. Yes, I was less than enthusiastic about going to the mountains. Hard to believe. But we had had a tough week. Hobbes is going through some sort of terrible separation anxiety or just plain fussiness, and Calvin woke up with a fever late Thursday night. None of us had gotten a good night’s sleep all week, and I was ready for a weekend at home doing nothing. We weren’t even going to get to stay two nights, so the trip hardly seemed worth it.

We left after my husband got home from work and drove the three and a half hours to my uncle’s cabin by the lake that weaves its way through my mountains. It was after 10 o’clock when we arrived, and Calvin wasn’t asleep yet. When Hobbes woke up as we tried to transfer him straight to bed, I about broke down. I was so tired!

But then it came to me, that fresh, cold air of the mountains in Autumn, the smell of decaying leaves and earth. And we walked in to find a fire prepared by my uncle and ready to light. Calvin may have been up until midnight, and Hobbes may have thrown a fit until even later about going back to sleep, but it didn’t matter. It was cool and clear outside, and the inside smelled of a real fire in a stone fireplace.

The boys did sleep late, and despite what should have been a rough night, we all woke up more relaxed and refreshed than we have been in ages. Some of my family drove up, and we all ate breakfast and watched the mist clear off the lake and the blazing mountains come into view. After a leisurely walk, my family left, and we sat by the fire with the boys and just enjoyed the quiet, no TV, no internet, no noisy traffic.

After naptime, we packed up and headed out for a mid-afternoon, gut stuffing meal at a local family-style restaurant. If you are from my neck of the woods, you know the type--two meats (country ham and fried chicken for us) and a slew of greasy vegetables, washed down with a glass of sweet tea, and topped of with some banana puddin’. Hobbes could not get enough of it, even the soup beans. He is mine, no doubt about it.

With that fuel for the journey, we headed back over the mountains, taking the most scenic curvy roads and enjoying the mountains at their peak of loveliness. Around every turn we were met with brilliant gold and dots of bright red. And occasionally we happened across a mountainside covered in dark green Frasier firs, remnants of a long-abandoned Christmas tree farm. We stopped to investigate a tiny old Episcopal church set in a beautiful valley. We bought apples at a roadside stand, Jonagolds and Staymans, two of my favorites. And we topped it off with hot chocolate and chai at a coffee shop in a small college town.

We didn’t leave the mountains until dark, getting home later than we had hoped. Calvin was up late yet again, and I was up even later watching my game. It should have been an exhausting whirlwind of a trip that left us ready for a real vacation. But my husband and I kept commenting that it was a perfect day. There is only one explanation: it was a gift from our Father, who was able to refresh and renew us in the little time that we had and in the places that we love the most.

It's Like Getting TiVo for Free!

We were driving back from a beautiful day in the mountains yesterday (more about that later), so I missed my team’s game. We don’t get cable anyway, so I would have had to go to my in-laws’ house to watch it. But the football gods were good to me. I am so in love with ESPN 360! Needless to say, I was thrilled when I realized that the crude setup of the computer on the coffee table and the TV tuned to baseball would allow me to watch two sporting events at the same time. This Luddite had finally arrived in the 21st century.

I was able to watch the football game, every tense second of it, and scream my head off while throwing sharp objects, all after my kids were in bed. And my husband was able to check the final score before I had finished the game in case he needed to prepare for the worst.

Some of you may be media junkies who wouldn’t settle for the crude picture on a computer screen when you can have PIP on your TV, but I learned last night that I can only handle so much easily accessible media. You see, ever since Hobbes’ ball obsession got me hooked on the playoffs, I have been inexplicably emotional over the World Series. Colorado losing makes me want to cry, and I don’t even like baseball! My extreme sadness over the baseball game and intense excitement over the football game were more than I could handle. My husband wisely made me turn the TV off. People may be able to watch NFL, record the NASCAR race, and occasionally check on the golf tournament while reading the Sunday paper and checking their e-mail, but I have discovered that I am not one of those.

So while I am extremely grateful that ESPN found a way to keep me from missing my team’s games, this house will stay cable, TiVo, and HD TV free for a while to come. Just don’t take my high speed internet!

Friday, October 26, 2007

Praying for Rain

O God, heavenly Father, who by thy Son Jesus Christ hast promised to all those who seek thy kingdom and its
righteousness all things necessary to sustain their life: Send us, we entreat thee, in this time of need, such moderate rain and showers, that we may receive the fruits of the earth, to our comfort and to thy honor; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (from the Book of Common Prayer)

For my mommy friends out there, three days of nonstop rain, a yard turned into a mudhole, and two small children at home may seem like a nightmare. But for us, it is a gift. Our life has been filled with drought and unseasonable heat since the beginning of August. It has done terrible things for our land, not to mention my mental state. Our congressmen just petitioned for aid for our farmers this week, our governor was preparing for a state of emergency, and we were days away from even more severe water restrictions. And so we are giving thanks today, for the steady rain that is washing the land and reviving our souls, bringing the coolness of Autumn to our land.

And even as I give thanks, I am reminded that ours is a small difficulty. For others in this country, drought has led to fires more terrifying than I can imagine. For many around the world, who don't even have clean drinking water, our "drought" is still unimaginable plenty. We live in a land of great abundance that has numbed us to our responsibility for conserving our resources. I am thankful for the rain, but I am also thankful for the drought and the lessons that it can bring.

We give you thanks, most gracious God, for the beauty of earth and sky and sea; for the richness of mountains, plains,
and rivers; for the songs of birds and the loveliness of flowers. We praise you for these good gifts, and pray that we may
safeguard them for our posterity. Grant that we may continue to grow in our grateful enjoyment of your abundant creation,to the honor and glory of your Name, now and for ever. Amen.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

They're My Boys

It's been a bad night. When I say my kids regularly sleep until eight in the morning, you may think I live in mother wonderland. Oh, how I wish! If he takes a nap, Calvin can be awake until 10 or 11, not always out of his bed, just awake. And Hobbes has been having an especially difficult time going to bed as of late. It was 10:45 before they were both asleep tonight. So here I sit with a Blue Moon Harvest Pumpkin Ale and a can of peanuts, nursing my frayed nerves while watching the Rockies lose. I only watch about 7 games of baseball a year, but somehow, watching those nice boys from Colorado lose to the Red Sox (who are second only to the Yankees in terms of sports evil in my book) is more than my fragile emotional state can take.

I expected Calvin to be up until late since he took a good nap today, but I had no idea what I was in for with Hobbes. His love of all things involving "baw" continues, but the lack of midweek football makes life difficult. Luckily for us, we have baseball. I allowed him to watch a bit while I rocked him tonight, and when I put him in his crib, he cried for an hour and a half because he was angry at missing ball on TV. I finally gave in and brought him back out, but as soon as he drifted off, I heard a choking noise. A screaming Calvin came running from his room at 10:30 having swallowed a nickel he took to bed with him. You can comment on my poor parenting skills all you want. All I know is that I was pretty sure I was going to lose it at that point. My amazing husband handled that ordeal, even fishing the lost nickel out of the toilet when Calvin spit it up, and I went back to ball and Hobbes, who finally drifted off. I only had to carry him back to the rocking chair twice before I could lay him down without waking him. So now you see why waking at eight in the morning doesn't mean my kids are getting a ton of sleep.

In an attempt to redeem the night, I share two stories that remind me how my boys really are all mine, so fun to parent, even if they are night owls like their daddy.

I mentioned that it was time for bed on Monday night and went back to cleaning up the kitchen. When I turned around, Hobbes was walking up with his blanket in one hand and my copy of Sports Illustrated in the other, with cries of "baw." He just needs his comfort items to sleep, football and blankie. He has been reading SI all week, flipping through for football pictures. That's my boy!

When we were playing in the boys' room this week, I decided to put on some music. I asked Calvin if he would like to listen to Louis Armstrong, figuring it was time to introduce him to some different music. He declined, but what do you think he chose instead? Not the Cars soundtrack, not Veggie Tales. My dear, sweet boy looked me right in the eye and said, "Lyle Lovett, please, Mommy." That's my boy!

They're my boys. But I sure am glad they are asleep.

They Say It So Much Better Than I

I had lots of little blog posts floating around in my head when I sat down to write, but I was so blown away when I checked the new posts on my Google reader that I decided not to write. (Let me interrupt here to put in a plug for Google reader. If you read a lot of blogs and don't have any sort of reader set up, you really should do it. It's easy to set up and saves tons of time by putting all of your favorite blogs in one site where you can check for new posts.)

Now, back to what I was saying. I often feel like there is no point in my having a blog when so many talented and thoughtful people have beautiful and challenging things to say. I certainly don't have pretensions of changing anyone's life through my writing. I think I just do this for my own intellectual outlet. But there are bloggers who consistently challenge and inspire me. This week seems to have been especially rich in that area, and so I share the wealth. Be sure to peruse the archives of these wonderful people, some of whom I know well, some of whom I have never met.

I just discovered Holy Experience in the past few weeks. This blog is full of beautiful meditations. Check out her posts on sight.

This post by Et Tu, Jen compliments the Holy Experience one well. It has been great to be reminded to look for the sacred in the every day.

In addition to being a great friend, Catherine at Everyday Life as Lyric Poetry is an amazing writer. I loved this post on introducing her son to nature. Hers may be my favorite blog so definitely peruse the archives.

Wonders for Oyarsa is blogging through the Bible and has some excellent insights into the Bible as God's story. This post is a break from that but a great reflection on the limits of philosophy is seeking to know God.

Em at Merry's Cloister has some great food for thought on Jane Austen and grace. She is doing a listening blog, great idea!

My dear friend Daniel at Sibboleth has a great post about the freedom that comes in accepting the apparent inconsistencies in scripture.

And Missy at Everyday Graces has lovely posts with even lovelier photographs. I found this one very refreshing.

I could link to so many more blogs, but these have been the most thought-provoking of the past few days.

Monday, October 22, 2007

An Invitation to My Readers (All Four of You)

One of the things I have loved about the blogosphere, even before I started my blog, is the way that it allows us to share ideas. I have found lots of great ideas from places like the Rocks in My Dryer “Works for Me Wednesday” entries and other smart and innovative bloggers out there. In that tradition, I want to initiate some sharing at TwoSquare. This is a totally selfish idea, because I know that y’all have some great ideas. So this is my first (and maybe only) request for entries. Let’s call it Midnight Snacks, since that is when most of my posts get published.

Most of you know how it goes. Write a post on the topic and link back to my blog somewhere in your post. Leave a comment to let me know you have participated. The more people we get involved, the more ideas we get. And we can share blogosphere friends this way. Heck, I would love to get my Southern friends reading my Midwestern friends’ blogs every once in a while. Y’all would love each other. So I hope you’ll join in the fun. If you don't have a blog, just leave your idea in the comments. Now, on to the topic…

Midnight Snacks: (Un)Creative Memories for Slackers

Before I was a mom, I was really into scrapbooking. I had all the stuff: books, stickers, paper, cutters. The books weren’t beautiful or incredibly artistic, because I’m not, but they worked. I still have all that stuff, packed away somewhere, along with the boxes of photos that I intended to put in baby books. Somewhere along the way, the whole process of taking digital prints, ordering them online, and putting them in scrapbooks seemed too cumbersome. Then I got a Mac! If there is an easier way to do it, Apple has figured it out. So now I have tons of digital photos saved on my computer and waiting to be put into digital scrapbooks that Apple prints for me. One day.

But I digress. The point is that I am NOT good at organizing photos any more. I just make sure my computer is backed up regularly and content myself with that for now. When the kids are older, I will get it in books. But there are some ways that I have found to record memories for my family that I would love to share.

Memory Journals

When Hobbes was about six months old, and I was coming out of my fog, I bought two leather bound sketchbooks. Every month, on the date of his birth, I write a letter to each son, recording the funny things he is saying and doing, and noting the things I love about him, the ways he is growing, and the ways he has yet to grow. This has become an important time for me to reflect on what makes each boy special and to think about how to parent him well. I also write down funny things when they happen if I have time, but I definitely make sure to do this at least once a month. For those of you who don’t have kids, I hope you do journal. I missed this so much once I got married and had kids, and this has been a small way to get it back.

Can’t Live Without It Camera

My father-in-law consulted for the company that makes this little camcorder, and now I can’t live without it. I will never be a person who uses a serious recorder to take hours of footage and edit it to file away for posterity. This recorder shoots about 30 minutes of footage, great for funny things, kids’ firsts, or strange cultural sights. It is lightweight and small, and, best of all, it has all the software you need right on it. You just plug it right into your USB and go from there. It’s even easy on a PC! It is worth the investment, even if you have a video option on your camera. It is much better quality and saves the memory on you camera for still shots. I had a bit of trouble with it at one point and got fast and excellent help from the company. (I didn’t even tell them who my father-in-law was.)

So now it is your turn. What do you do to preserve your memories? (Non mommies please share ideas too!) Write a post. Link to me in your post. And be sure to leave a comment here. I will write another post with links to your ideas in a few days so that you can find each other.

Happiness is...

A quiet house at 8:15. A glass of Alice White cab-shiraz blend. A piece of 76% dark chocolate straight from France. And my Mac on my lap...hmmm. Maybe I should pick up a book instead.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

A New Friend

Can someone tell me how, in all my years as an English student and lover of literature, I never read a novel by Willa Cather? I just finished My Atonia, and I am looking forward to many more years of enjoying Cather’s writing. If you haven’t read anything by her, I highly recommend My Antonia as a starting point. I promise you will want to read more. This novel was just what I was needing. I have been reading too much lately that is either highly cross-cultural , depressing, or mind-stretching. None of those things are necessarily bad, but this novel was so fresh and comforting to me.

My favorite writers are those that make me stop and say “This is true…yes, that is how it is.” When I stop in the middle of a description of a person or an experience and realize that that is how I always wanted to say it and never could, I know I have found a kindred spirit. When I get to the end of a novel and sit back to breathe deep of its essence, I have found a lifelong friend. Willa Cather is one of those writers.

My Antonia is the story of the people and values by which America was settled, sort of a grown up Little House on the Prairie. My husband’s maternal grandparents were the children of Polish and Czech immigrants, and I have seen immigrant values firsthand since marrying into the family. His grandmother raised nine children with one hand, literally. The other was cut off in a bad accident when she was a young married woman. And those values, of working hard, making much of little, and refusing to submit to self-pity, were passed down to her children. When I mentioned this book at her birthday dinner last night (88 and going strong), Grandma said she read it once a long time ago and loved it.

The novel follows the story of Antonia Shimerda, daughter of Bohemian immigrants, from the time her family settles in Nebraska until she begins her own family on the Nebraska plains. The story is told from the point of view of Jim Burden, a boy slightly younger than Antonia, who moves to the plains from Virginia to live with his grandparents. I won’t tell any more than that, but I will say that this novel is beautiful. Cather’s language is simple and true, and the narrator’s reflections on the strength of the women who settled America are poignant. Here are a few gems:

Grandfather’s prayers were often very interesting. He had the gift of simple and moving expression. Because he talked so little, his words had a peculiar force; they were not worn dull from constant use. (Oh, to be like that!)

There was a basic harmony between Antonia and her mistress. They had strong, independent natures, both of them. They knew what they liked and were not always trying to imitate other people. They loved children and animals and music, and rough play and digging in the earth. They liked to prepare rich, hearty food and to see people eat it; to make up soft white beds and to see youngsters asleep in them. (Oh, to have daughters, or daughters-in-law, like that!)

When I closed my eyes I could hear them all laughing – the Danish laundry girls and the three Bohemian Marys…It came over me, as it had never done before, the relation between girls like those and the poetry of Virgil. If there were no girls like them in the world, there would be no poetry…This revelation seemed to me inestimably precious. I clung to it as if it might suddenly vanish. (I love how his captures the link between the poetic and the everyday, earthiness of hardworking, real women.)

And my favorite...

As we walked homeward across the fields, the sun dropped and lay like a great golden globe in the low west. While it hung there, the moon rose in the east, as big as a cart-wheel, pale silver and streaked with rose colour, thin as a bubble or a ghost-moon. For five, perhaps ten minutes, the two luminaries confronted each other across the level land, resting on opposite edges of the world.

In that singular light every little tree and shock of wheat, every sunflower stalk and clump of snow-on-the-mountain, drew itself up high and pointed; the very clods and furrows in the fields seemed to stand up sharply. I felt the old pull of the earth, the solemn magic that comes out of those fields at nightfall. I wished I could be a little boy again, and that my way could end there.

It's almost enough to make me want to move out West, almost. Southern lit has a few gems, too! What about you? What friends have you found in literature?

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Sometimes It Is So Frightening

It was a late night, not unusual around here. I finally got Hobbes to sleep around nine by rocking him, and then I had to lay in Calvin's bed holding his hand until even later. It seems so peaceful now, deceptively so, after a day of tantrums and hair pulling and hysterical outbursts. This is the time of day when I usually relax, eat some chocolate, go off duty from this mommying thing. But tonight, as I lay with Calvin, I felt the weight of it all, and I needed to write.

Sometimes it is so frightening, this parenting thing. It seems so easy when they are babies. Feed, burp, change, rock, sleep, start again. When did it get so hard? Suddenly there are characters to shape and souls to nurture and minds to engage. Deep down I know that this is a privilege, and that truly it is not all up to me. But right now I am just overwhelmed.

First there is Calvin, so unbelievably smart and verbal. He was saying "butterfly" by his first birthday and spent the Spring when he was 19 months correcting our botany lessons. When his grandpa pointed out the "pretty white flowers" in the backyard, he corrected him: "No Grampa, those are dogwood trees." I am not kidding you here. He was quoting the opening stanza of Paul Revere's Ride at 18 months. Just keeping his mind stimulated could be a full time job if I weren't convinced that it's better to just let him be a kid.

But sometimes it is so frightening. I can handle teaching him poetry. But how do I teach him to control his emotions? He feels things so deeply, and he wants so badly to have a second chance when he messes up. Today I offered to let the boys watch a video while I started dinner, but when he threw a fit about which video, I sent him to his room for a timeout instead, telling him he could come out when he calmed down. "But Mommy, I need help calming down, it is so hard sometimes!" We spent thirty minutes of his hugging and fighting and screaming and crying as he tried to get over this slight disappointment and begged to be given another chance to "be good next time." These outbursts are not uncommon, and I rarely feel that I come out of them having parented well.

How do I parent with grace and compassion? How do I teach my son that there are consequences for his behavior that happen despite his sincere repentance? How do I show him that my forgiveness and the correction that he needs can coexist? How do I show him that God's love and forgiveness does not mean that all things are made right instantly? How do I teach him to handle his emotions so that they don't get the best of him? Sometimes it is so frightening.

Then there is Hobbes, resilient second child, sweet and stubborn to the core. He is so smiley and happy-go-lucky most of the time. But when things don't go his way, he digs in his heels and shows all his honestly-inherited stubbornness. The stand-offs get so tiring. But he is so like me, and I know that I have to deal with this now so that it can be corralled into good use when he is older. But how do I do it when I so often don't have the strength to fight another battle of the wills? How do I teach him to use his determination constructively? How do I even know which battles to pick? Sometimes it is so frightening.

So frightening, what these wonderful, funny, smart, stubborn, sensitive boys could become if left without the redemptive and sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit. And there is my answer, I know. It is not all up to me. God has given me these children, and He is perfectly capable of using my flawed parenting skills to make them into the people he wishes them to be.

But sometimes it is so frightening, what He asks of me. For parenting is really more about my sanctification than that of my boys. It is this laying down of my rights, my ideas of how things should go, my confidence in my own abilities, and it is coming every day to the place where my vulnerability can meet His grace. But I am too smart for my own good, overly emotional, and stubborn to the core. I want too often to do this on my own. This is one battle I cannot fight. I have to give in. He is the creator of the universe, after all. But sometimes it is so frightening.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

A Perfect End to an Imperfect Weekend

It's not that it was a bad weekend, just crazy. We met my mom, bro and sis-in-law, and niece at a hotel near the zoo Friday night. They didn't get in until late, and the boys were not about to go to sleep before they got to see Nana. We spent Saturday morning at the zoo and headed back to our place for a busy afternoon of shopping and playing to be capped off with dinner at a Japanese steak house. I knew I had pushed too hard when Hobbes, who usually loves all things exciting, burst into hysterical tears at the flaming onion tower.

Oh, but the night wasn't over yet. Imagine two three-year-olds, a toddler, a well-loved Nana, and four parents in a tiny...I cannot over-emphasize that word...tiny three-bedroom house. Bathtime and bedtime chaos abounded last night. Hobbes ended up being fussy and spending almost the whole night in our bed, waking me up just about on the hour. Calvin kept his uncle, who was sleeping on his floor, awake until nearly midnight jumping from his bed to the mattress on the floor and "sharing" his pillow and blankets.

I was a grump this morning, yelling at the boys and generally feeling crabby about my lack of sleep all the way to church. Somehow, after we all took a two hour nap, I was crazy enough to feel like going out again. We did spend a lovely evening over dinner at my sister-in-law's new place, but my husband's family has a knack for lingering over dinner, and wine, and dessert, and popcorn...I have learned to bring the boys' pajamas with me whenever we are having dinner with the family, hoping that they will get in the car all ready for bed and fall asleep on the way home.

We arrived home at 9:30 to a house full of dirty breakfast dishes, piles of towels and sheets, scattered toys, and mattresses on the floor. Not that my family didn't help clean up. They did. We just weren't home long enough to get it all done. I hate entering Monday with a messy house, and I grumped on my husband on the way home about all the stuff I needed to do and how late we had stayed. To top it off, Hobbes woke up when I had to change his diaper.

So what is the point of this rambling? There I was, with two very awake boys, dishes to wash, laundry to start, a house in shambles, exhausted and grumpy, and frustrated with myself for grumping on my husband and boys when the world suddenly came into focus. As I lay on my bed with Hobbes, helping him to get to sleep, he put his little hand up to my face and said, "Mama" in the sweetest voice he could muster. After his "beh" (bear) and "dah" (dog) had kissed me on the nose and we had giggled a bit, I began to sing. I sang song after song as long as he asked for "mo" until, his blue eyes closed and his strong hands holding tight to "beh" and "dah", he feel asleep on my pillow. Then I heard Calvin in his bed, where Daddy was helping him to sleep, "How much do you love me?" (We had just read Guess How Much I Love You.) It was way too late when both boys fell asleep. The house is still a wreck. Monday is coming way too soon. But as my husband came out of the boys' room after a sweet bedtime conversation with Calvin, he said, "My heart is full." Mine is too.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Seven Things About Me

My sweet friend over at Baby Love Slings has tagged me to write seven things about myself. Sounds fun. I will try to skip the obvious, because if you read this blog you already know I love the South, Appalachia, sweet tea, and college football. While I'm at it, I'll put in a plug for my friend's beautiful baby slings. I am a big babywearing fan for purely practical reasons, and her slings are great.

So, my seven things:

1. My all-time favorite movie is "The Breakfast Club." I think I watched it once a week in college.
2. I subscribe to Sports Illustrated, and my husband has no interest whatsoever in stealing it from me.
3. I hate being tickled more than just about anything else a person could do to me. (Needless to say, I was surprised to find that Hobbes begs for "mo" when he gets tickled. I never knew anyone could be like that.)
4. I spent the summer after I graduated from college backpacking in Europe.
5. I spent the two years after college living in a Christian commune. I'm all about the hippie lifestyle!
6. None of my top 10 songs were recorded after 1974. (hippie lifestyle)
7. I hope to one day get my PhD in comparative literature, probably after all these little people who keep appearing around me grow up and move out.

And now I get to tag some people. So the two people who read my blog who haven't been tagged:

Making Room For More
Beloved Beginner

and YOU, whoever you are...

Monday, October 8, 2007

The Movie I've Been Waiting for My Entire Life

Yesterday afternoon, I went to see Across the Universe with my amazing youngest sister-in-law. It is a sign of my status as a totally out of touch mom that I hadn't even heard of this film before yesterday. In college, I am sure I would have been counting down the days until its release and engaging in endless discussion about it. In other words, this is the film I haven been waiting for my entire life without even knowing it.

In case you are as cut off from the real world as I, the movie is a gritty, edgy musical set in the Vietnam era and based on the music of the Beatles. Words cannot really do it justice. It is better experienced than talked about. The makers of the film began by choosing the songs that they felt best fit the era and let the lyrics build the story. It revolves around the love story of the two main character, Jude and Lucy, and Lucy's brother, Max, who gets shipped off to Vietnam. Sexy Sadie, JoJo, and Prudence are the other main characters. And Bono plays a bit part as Dr. Robert. The film begins more grounded in the domesticity of the sixties, and slowly succumbs to the choas, confusion, and passion of the Vietnam era, providing an honest look at the emotions of the time.

I had a few fears going into the film, and none of them came true. First, I feared that this would be an idealistic view of the antiwar movement, making the hippies look good and their parents look bad. But a few key scenes helped to show the complexity of the time and managed to suspend judgment.

Second, I feared that this would be a musical. By that I mean a schmaltzy, stilted, break out in song-and-dance sort of film with no real story. Instead, the music was seamlessly integrated into the film. There were still some wacky choreographed song and dance numbers, but they worked. I'm not really sure why...maybe because they echoed some of the Beatles own wacky stuff and maybe because of the whole atmosphere of drug-induced hallucinations that one can associate with the time.

My greatest fear was that the filmakers would ruin the music. I admit that I was somewhat comforted when I read that T-Bone Burnett helped with the music. I was blown away when I heard it. It was fantastic, better than any Beatles tribute album could hope to be. The music flowed from the setting, and it wasn't a cheap reproduction of all the Beatles favorites. Each song had a fresh, often stripped down, quality that still paid tribute to the legacy of the Beatles. The songs worked because the film gave an honest look at the era in which those songs were written...or perhaps vice-versa.

Needless to say, if you like the Beatles, you have to see this movie. Even if you don't, it was an amazing, if somewhat bizarre, experience. The movie I have been waiting for my entire life. Really.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

College Football High

Kudos to LSU and Florida for playing the best football game I have seen all season, a grueling, grinding, battle to the finish. I was so tense the whole time, and it wasn't even my team playing! And thanks to Stanford for defeating USC and helping to prove that preseason rankings are pointless and unfair and that the SEC really is the best conference in the nation. No contest.

I should mention that I didn't see the Appalachian State-Michigan game earlier this season, so I can't say how it compares play-for-play with last night's game. Certainly, it was the biggest upset in recent college football history and maybe ever. If you read my blog, you know that I loved seeing a team from Appalachia beat up on a Big Ten school. Go Mountaineers!

The Faithfulness of My Parents

Et Tu, Jen? is sponsoring a group writing project on the topic "What are three things your parents did right?" My entry is below, but you should definitely check out her blog for some other great entries and some thoughtful writing and questions on other topics as well.

What are three things my parents did right? I really had a pretty wonderful upbringing in a strong Christian family, so there are a lot of things I could say. My parents did a good job of parenting my brother and I, if they were a little too lenient sometimes. But as I thought about the three things that were most important in their parenting, I realized those things had little to do with their direct parenting and a lot to do with their faithful commitment to three values.

My parents were committed to marriage. My father was a doctor, and any wife of a doctor will tell you that that makes for a difficult marriage. While I am sure that they had struggles, my parents stayed together and were visibly committed in way that made my brother and I never fear a divorce. They regularly went away for weekends in the mountains, and I believe they loved one another more by the time my father died than they had on their wedding day. Through living in poverty during med school, struggles with depression, long work hours, raising teenagers, and enduring cancer treatments, my parents remained committed to one another. This faithfulness to marriage has been foundational in both mine and my brother's marriages.

My mom and dad were committed to the church. Though my mother's faith is definitely more robust than my father's was, there was rarely a Sunday that they weren't in church together. I tried really hard to remember a time when one or the other or both skipped church. If we were home on Sunday, being in church was a given. The only exception was when my father was too ill from treatments to go. We were never forced to go to church, and while my brother did leave church when he was a teenager, he came back fifteen years later. I am sure that my parents' faithfulness to the church body drew him back. I have moved many times in the past few years, and finding a church community has always been a main priority when I settle somewhere new.

Finally, my parents were faithful to give generously and to offer hospitality to strangers (or to strange teenagers). I have memories from a very early age of my father sitting down to balance the checkbook (what's that?) and to write a tithe check and checks to ministries he supported. We had frequent interaction with missionaries, and though they never went overseas, my parents made sure we knew of and supported God's work around the world.

But doing His work of hospitality in our own home was also a priority. I remember my mother picking up a young woman and her child who were walking on the road one day. This began a long period of helping this single mom to feed and clothe herself and her baby and to get the help she needed. In the end, we were taken advantage of, but that didn't matter. What mattered to my mom was that we did the right thing in offering hospitality to a stranger.

Then there were the strange teenagers, also known as our friends. On of my brother's friends, who was not a believer, lived in our basement for several months, and my parents loaned him a good deal of money. Several years later, he became a Christian and went to work here. He came back to thank my parents for being instrumental in his journey. He wasn't the only one who spent weeks, nights, afternoons in our home. My friends loved to visit my house because my mom always welcomed them unconditionally. This atmosphere of generosity and hospitality has influenced my home and my calling in more ways than I can count.

There are many things that my parents did right, and some they did wrong. But more than anything, their faithfulness, to one another, to the church, and to those in need, have shaped the woman, wife, mother and Christian that I am.

A Proud Parenting Moment

My friend, Catherine, posted some lovely pictures of her family enjoying Fall. Though it continues to be miserably and unseasonably hot here (86 today and 90 tomorrow), we are doing our best to get in the spirit of Autumn. We took a family hiking trip this morning at a local state park, and Calvin and Hobbes loved being outside. My mountain girl heart was happy, too. But here is what made me even happier.

On the way home, we stopped for a late lunch and a peek in a really fun toy store. We kept talking about needing to get home for mommy's football game. That's right, I am the sports fan in the family. When we got in the car, Hobbes kept yelling for "baw" (I can't do justice to his adorable Southern drawl combined with a lack of final consonants), and we finally turned the radio to a football broadcast. I thought he was asleep when I pulled in the driveway, but as soon as the van stopped, I heard another "baw" from the backseat. We set him on the driveway, and he went racing toward the door.

Though it was naptime, I decided to rock him a bit while we watched the beginning of the game. After our first touchdown, I put him in his crib, and immediately after I shut the door, I heard pitiful cries of "bawwww...bawwww...." coming from his room. I gave in and brought him back out. We rocked and watched my team doing well, for once, and his "baw"'s became more and more feeble as he drifted off to sleep to the sounds of our fight song. Nothing could make this Southern football fanatic mommy happier than putting her babe to sleep to the beautiful sound of helmet-on-helmet. Now if only my team will make me as happy...

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

I've got a Southern accent, so I must be stupid.

You don't have to read this whole post, but please at least jump to the end.

My husband e-mailed me this video today, and while I usually find stuff that the Onion does to be pretty amusing satire, this pissed me off...excuse the language, but it did. You see, I am from the Appalachian South, that scary black hole of a place that everyone else in the country is afraid to visit for fear of being abducted by banjo playing, overall wearing, moonshining, and (gasp!) conservative rednecks. I know that the video was just trying to play on the overly sentimental patriotism and macho redneckness of some country music, but they took it too far with the stuff about blowing up New York and killing all the Jews and gays. I like New York. I have friends who are Jewish. I have friends who are gay. Even if I didn't, I generally like humans enough not to want them to be killed. We're nice down here, and we are diverse, in culture, in race, in experience, in landscape and worldview. We may not agree with all of our neighbors, but we will sit on the porch and have a glass of sweet tea with them. We can all agree on the goodness of that.

I am willing to admit that Southerners can be judgmental people, but it is the ways that we are often judged that made this video set me off. Think about this for a minute. If a TV show wants to portray someone as stupid or having poor common sense, what do they do? Get an actor with a good, thick Southern accent. It has become such common practice that people with Southern accents are rarely taken seriously on TV or in real life. Watch a little TV and a few films with this in mind, and you'll see what I mean. Of course, all stereotypes have some basis in reality, I suppose. You can make a case that Southerners after the Civil War were historically poorer and less well educated. But we have indoor plumbing now...and even cable TV! Not to mention universities, talented artists and musicians, good cuisine, great weather, Krispy Kreme and Chick-fil-A. Woah! I'd better stop it, or ya'll will want to move down here and take over.

So why am I ranting and raving? There are plenty of bad things I could say about Southern culture's flaws. We certainly have an unsavory history. But we are often taken advantage of and exploited. Residents of the Appalachian South are perhaps treated the worst of all.

Here is where I get to the serious part of this post. The South is beautiful, in all its variety of people and food and music. No part is more beautiful to me than the Appalachian mountains, yet people who do not live in those mountains are ripping them to shreds so that our country can have enough coal to run it's industrial machine. I am not against using natural resources responsibly, but extracting them responsibly is also important. Imagine living in a cabin where you sat on your front porch every morning to watch the sun rise over a mountain. Imagine that same mountain being lopped off at the top so some company could make easy money on coal. The disastrous effects of this are too many to mention here. So check out this website, and please, take a minute to write our government to protest mountaintop removal. Even if you're a Yankee, you have to know this is wrong ;) Leave a comment to let me know if you do!

Monday, October 1, 2007

Faking the Rapture

This is too funny!

Faking the Rapture

I know some people love the Left Behind series. I confess that I have never read them. They may be good fiction, but they are just fiction. I was appalled to learn that a church my in-laws attended at one time actually had a Sunday School class that used the books. From what little I know of the story, I think they are a pretty bad interpretation of Revelation, at least not methodologically sound enough for Sunday school material. But you can ask me about that some other time. If you feel the same way, you'll enjoy the video. (Thanks for the tip, hubby.)

Sticky, Sandy Scripture

I have been a Christian all of my life, and since around eighth grade, regular (not to be confused with daily) individual study of the scripture has been a part of my faith. Recently my neighbor and I were discussing how our prayer and Bible study habits have changed since we became mothers.

At times in my life, I practiced waking early to pray and read scripture before beginning my day or dedicating time for that before crawling into bed. Now my only morning prayer goes something like this, "God, please let that not be Hobbes waking up already" (followed by the cries of "Mama! Mama!" from the crib). If I sit down to try to pray in the evening, I usually end up asleep in my chair. I remember spending copious amounts of time in corporate and individual prayer in college, praying for people I knew, for issues of injustice, for God's kingdom to be made manifest in the world. Now I spend copious amounts of time folding laundry and screaming at my kids while shooting up sentence prayers for patience or just one day without a tantrum. I'm pretty sure that if I weren't in a women's Bible study through my church the pages of my Bible would rarely see daylight.

My neighbor said that her spiritual life seems to have taken a similar downturn, and we were discussing what it would mean to find a rhythm for prayer and study that fit the constant demands of mothering little ones. My Bible study and prayer usually happen in the 15 minutes a few times a week that I force myself to sit down during naptime and do something other than read blogs. My neighbor suggested that she always reads her devotional and prays with her son while they eat breakfast, and that gave me pause.

Do my children ever see me studying scripture or praying? We do have family prayer, a hymn, and a Bible story most nights before bedtime. But other than that and prayers before meals, do the boys know that their mommy thinks learning to pray and read the Bible for oneself are important?

So I experimented today. I decided to do my reading for my women's Bible study while my kids were playing outside. Calvin was running around the yard with his golf clubs, and Hobbes was contentedly playing in the sandbox. That should have bought me at least 20 minutes. I pulled out my Bible, notebook, and pen and got to work...

"Mama, mama, mama" (two sandy hands run up to show me seashells that were buried in the sandbox, spilling sand all over my Bible...)

I admire the shells and gently place Hobbes back in the sandbox. Back to reading.

"eh, eh, eh" (same two hands grab for my pen and throw a fit when they aren't allowed to write in my notebook...)

Hobbes is once more escorted back to the sand. Okay, back to work.

"Ahhhhhh! Mommy, Hobbes is taking the car. I need to drive to the golf course" (thirty minutes, a time out, several screaming fits, and two icees later...)

Back to the Bible study. Check the clock. It's time for Mr. Rogers and lunch, and I am only halfway through today's reading. Sticky, sandy hands pull me inside.

I'm not sure what I learned from this, but I think it was a success. You see, my children did notice that I was reading the Bible. (Well, Calvin knew what I was doing; Hobbes knew I had a pen and paper.) I stopped when they needed help or attention, but I went back. Calvin is old enough to ask what I am reading and for us to have some brief conversation about it. Hobbes is at least getting used to seeing his mom with a Bible in her hands. While I am sure that some time for prayer and reflection that isn't interrupted by children is important, I can't help but think that this is more important. When my boys are grown up, I want them to look back and know that their mom loved being in the Word and that they were welcome to join her there, sticky, sandy hands and all.

Chance to win a free book!

I'm always up for good, free children's books. My friend Catherine is offering a great giveaway. Click the link below to sign up and check out her other blog while you're at it. She's an excellent writer. Be sure to check in her archives for some of her thoughts on pregnancy and motherhood.

Opinionated: *Giveaway!* Barefoot Books: Celebrating Art and Story