Sunday, February 28, 2010

I think I am in love...

...with Kate DiCamillo's books. I read "The Tale of Despereaux" last summer, trying in vain to keep one step ahead of Calvin's voracious reading. We just checked out "The Magician's Elephant" at our last trip to the library, and I read it in two sittings on Sunday. It was enchanting, and to say that I liked it less than "Despereaux" does not diminish its magic in anyway. They were both amazing, one just slightly less amazing than the other. These would be perfectly good read-aloud books, too. And her picture book, "Louise, the Adventures of a Chicken" is absolutely charming. Now I need to read to "Because of Winn Dixie" (which Calvin has already read, of course).

This post reminds me that I am nearing my 300th...mostly because I celebrated my 100th by listing 100 books I loved and giving one away. I'm not going to try to increase my list by 200, but I do need something fun for my 3ooth. Ideas?

Friday, February 26, 2010

The Contraption

"Mommy, you're tiny!" Hobbes exclaims as he looks backwards through the binoculars.

The contraption (because I don't know what else to call it) belongs to Calvin, a green plastic toy his Nana bought for him on a museum trip. It has a compass and little lenses that fold out to work as binoculars or a magnifying glass. I'm sure it does many other things. I am certain Calvin can tell me what it is called and quote the entire instruction manual verbatim for me if I ask him. But Hobbes just likes to play with it, watching objects magically shrink and grow through the various lenses.

"Now you look, Mommy. See how tiny I am!"

But when I take the binoculars from my eyes, Hobbes stands so large before me and his brother even larger beside him. It has been five and a half years since I held my first baby, and now I hold my third son, on the verge of walking, his older brothers so very big to me.

I remember when Calvin was a baby, and everything seemed to focus on him. I watched every move or noise or face he made with such wonder and scrutiny. Every failing as a parent seemed so huge and every disobedience on his part devastating. I was more than once certain I had failed him. I too often made too much of something little. I was looking through that magnifying part of the contraption.

Five and a half years and two more babies and something is beginning to shift. There are still moments and days and weeks when I find myself looking through that magnifying glass, the microscopic problem suddenly looming large before my eyes. But sometimes I remember to step back, to open my eyes to a new perspective. Yes, those little moments and actions and words are important. They are also very small pieces of a very large world. Sometimes I remember to turn the contraption around and look through the wrong end of the binoculars, to see how tiny I really am.

When I realize my true place, I find myself folding up the contraption, the plans and need for control and fear that skew my perspective. I realize that this moment does not hold the weight of the future. When I stop looking down to analyze, I can look up and see something bigger. Then those moments don't become less significant. They become heavy with the grace and beauty and goodness of a God who is there in it all, placing all of the small pieces lovingly in their places. Because they are no longer all about me, they become moments of gratitude and peace and joy.

I am a small piece of a very big world, but it is a world guided by a grace and mercy that takes small pieces and turns them into more than the sum of their parts. A grace that redeems the failures and sorrows and struggles. A grace that does not reject the small moments but puts them in their right places. Because God cares about those parenting moments when I fail and when I rise to the task, but until I see them from His perspective, I can't see them rightly. I can't see me rightly.

Yes, I am tiny, Hobbes. We are all so tiny and yet loved by a God who is so very big. Now let's look at some bugs and flowers through that magnifying glass.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

7 Quick Takes for Lent

ItalicI can't believe it has been two weeks since I wrote here! There have been so many times I have wanted to sit and write, but the rhythm of our lives has changed with the observance of Lent. Though it is a good thing, it has left me little room for writing or being on the computer. Here's some of what we've been up to and what I've been thinking about. For more Quick Takes, visit Jen.

My husband fashioned the cross pictured in my header from two pieces of our Christmas tree. It was an idea I had seen in an Anglican Lenten Carnival post some time back, and I filed it away for this year. The first candle was lit on Ash Wednesday, and each Sunday, we light one more candle. It will be fully lit on Palm Sunday, and on Maundy Thursday we will light the purple candles for the last time. On Easter Sunday, we will replace the purple candles with white for our Easter celebration breakfast. We'll see if it sticks around for the full season of Easter or not. It's not too late to craft one of these from any wood (though the Christmas tree symbolism was nice), and if my husband and I can do it, you can. We are not crafty people!

I think I mentioned this before, but we are fasting from artificial light after sundown during Lent. More than our food fasts and our limited computer usage, this fast has changed the entire feel of our days. We are going to bed earlier and rising earlier and finding ourselves more disciplined to finish our tasks before the dark sets in. I am amazed at how much this is changing our lifestyle in a very good way. I think as we settle into it I will find more time for rest and reflection at the end of the day and may even start getting up early enough to really begin my day in prayer. Once Lent is over, we may continue this one evening a week, probably Saturdays, as a time of rest and preparation for the Sabbath day.

Other than the family fast from light and a fasting from computer games (except on Sundays), I don't feel like I am doing much to include the boys in Lent this year. We have had good times of talking about it during our prayer times in the evenings, and we are teaching the boys the prayer of confession from the Book of Common Prayer. Other than that, though, I don't feel like our house seems different this time of year like it does at Advent. I would love to know what my liturgically minded friends out there do to the home environment to set this time apart. Maybe fasting is enough.

During this season, I've really been appreciating the wisdom of the ancient church in establishing the church calendar as they did. Lent comes at the perfect time. After the anticipation and celebration of Christmas and the complete loss of routine and discipline that often occurs around holidays, I find myself longing for a return to order and simplicity and for a chance to fast. Our culture's tradition of New Year's resolutions is a good one, but I think it comes too early. If the spirit of the resolution really is to rid oneself of bad habits and begin developing new ones, then it is a secular version of Lent. And by the time February rolls around, I have had enough time to get over the exhaustion of the holidays and find myself longing to change things and make order and clean out, both literally and figuratively. I am not ready for that on January 1st. I can resolve to eat right or to exercise or to get more sleep all I want, but I rarely stick with it.

But I enter Lent with an intention to deny myself something enjoyable (sweets, entertainment, the need to accomplish something) in order to make room for something better (times of prayer, the discipline of training my body, a rested body and mind that can serve and love more patiently). When I meditate on the sufferings of Christ as I deny myself these immediate pleasures, these resolutions suddenly have a spiritual significance. They are no longer about just looking or feeling better, they allow me to enter into the spiritual reality of Christ's suffering and death. And, most importantly, I have the joy of Easter resurrection awaiting me at the end. (And, hopefully, after six weeks of spiritual discipline some of these changes will stick and strengthen my body and soul.)

I am looking for some good books for children during Lent. I have a book on the Stations of the Cross that I plan to pull out, and I am super excited about a Stations of the Cross experience that our church is putting on this Sunday. They are having art and sensory experiences and music, a variety of things at different stations. They are opening it up for families to come with young children at the beginning of the evening, and I think we will take our boys.

But this take was about books. Any suggestions for good books for the boys to focus them on the ideas of Lent? I will be pulling out our books about caterpillars turning to butterflies and seeds turning to plants and eggs hatching into birds and all of those lovely Springtime images that God put in nature to reflect the spiritual reality of New Creation. Anything else?

Because Lent is often a traditional time for Spring cleaning, I am trying to use this time to step up my purging and cleaning out and preparing our house for the market and our belongings for our move overseas. The task ahead seems so big, and I am find myself doubting so often that we will ever get to the mission field. But one thing this artificial light fast is teaching me is to focus on one task at a time and to work diligently. When I really do that, I find myself able to trust that the big picture will be taken care of as I am faithful to do all I can and not try to do more.

If you are fasting from meat for Lent, Jessica has some great recipes up. I linked to this two weeks ago, but now I have tried two of the recipes. I loved the curried lentils and rice, and the broccoli calzones were a hit with everyone in the family. I think her most recent post has a couple more links to vegetarian recipes, so check it out.

And a superfluous take for good measure. Kate at A Telling Place has been posting some beautiful and poignant poems and readings this Lent. I especially love this one...and this one...and this one (because I love Annie Dillard). Many are good images and thoughts in preparation for the darkness of Good Friday.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

7 Quick Takes

Things are going better around these parts lately. Calvin is settling down a bit, and I am remembering to enjoy him and not just survive him. That means I have time to think of other things and even enjoy some good British comedy. What are you up to? For other Quick Takes, go visit Jen.


Is anyone else as creeped out by Google Buzz as I am? I was so disturbed to log onto my e-mail yesterday morning to find that I was already signed up for Buzz and that people were "following" me, whatever that means. And there is no way to completely get rid of Buzz, so far as I can tell. Creepy! I am actually really angry at Google for assuming I wanted my privacy violated for the sake of their newest invention, and I am considering deleting my gmail account and switching to a host for this blog that is not connected to Google. Am I just paranoid, or is this whole Buzz thing scary?


On a not at all lighter note, I have been following the controversy over the Tim Tebow Super Bowl ad pretty closely. I found this article and this one interesting. I personally thought it was not that big of a deal when it came down to it, though it would have been interesting to see what CBS would have done if a similarly understated pro-choice ad had been submitted. Anyway, the whole controversy has sparked a very honest and respectful discussion over at Emily's blog. Go check it out, but only if you can contribute in the respectful tone that has been set.


Lent is almost upon us. We are contemplating a few fasts for this season. I am still trying to figure out if we can do a fast from meat, since Linus refuses to eat eggs or cheese or beans. If we do it, Jessica has some links to great recipes. We are also going to do an internet fast. I may still blog, and we will still use e-mail. But reading blogs, browsing the internet for information, and Facebook are off limits. Finally, we are planning to fast from artificial light after supper. We are hoping this will help us to use our time during the day well, develop discipline, and order our days rightly by practicing mini-sabbaths in the evenings. The boys are still contemplating what they want to give up, probably computer games every day except Sunday.


Bishop N.T. Wright suggests that if something is given up during Lent something should be taken up during Easter. I am still contemplating this. I think for the boys I'll make a cross out of construction paper. When one of us notices another person in the family doing something kind or merciful or unselfish or otherwise good, we will put a flower sticker on the cross. Hopefully it will be covered with flowers by the end of Easter.


I just finished reading The Supper of the Lamb and loved it! My favorite chapter is the one on wine, which Capon titles "Water in Excelsis" Isn't that great? I would put some good quotations here to draw you in, but there are too many. If you love food and are at all sacramental in your theology, you will like this book. It might not be the best reading for Lent, though, as the recipes will make you want to try them right away. Then again, he does have some good thoughts on fasting and feasting.


My husband and I have lately been taking advantage of our Netflix subscription to watch the videos they have available online. Our latest obsession has been Fawlty Towers. If you like British comedy and have never seen this show, you should. How can you not love John Cleese as a misanthropic hotel owner? Great stuff!


Finally, if you are late with organizing things like I am, you may not have planned your Valentine's celebrations yet. My husband and I aren't big Valentine's Day people, but I am planning to make cupcakes with the boys and do this cute craft (thanks to Jessica for the link). They would make good gifts. I suppose we should celebrate and learn about St. Valentine on Sunday, but we will probably be busy eating jiao zi and welcoming in the new year. Happy Year of the Tiger!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


When you were born, I did what all mothers do after the business and mess of labor are finished. I lay there exhausted while you slept on my chest, and as the sun crept through the windows of the hospital room, I held your hand in mine and counted. One, two, three, four, five. Then the other hand. One, two, three, four, five. They were perfect, those chubby little hands with short fingers. Everyone said they were manly hands, not delicate or dainty. I loved everything about them, about you. You were perfect.

We took you home and adored you as only first time parents can adore their children, observing every new development with wonder and amazement. We stared at your little fingers, gripping my finger as you nursed. We watched you on your blanket on the floor, reaching for the red squares of fabric. When you discovered your fingers, turning your hands around and around looking at each one, we were enthralled. I delighted the moment you learned to put those hands together to pull a toy to your mouth. I remember the exact moment it happened, outside a barbeque restaurant, pulling on the toy attached to your carseat.

Those hands have learned to do so much since then, to put pieces in a puzzle, to hold a fork and spoon, to color and paint and write your name. Those hands have stroked my cheek and clinched in anger. They've tickled your brother and pinched him, too. They've swung swords at imaginary dragons, thrown footballs to your daddy in the backyard, and climbed trees higher than your mommy finds safe. Those chubby baby fingers, clinched in a newborn fist, are becoming the strong hands of a boy learning to do the work of manhood. They are so much bigger now. I noticed it as I held one of them tonight.

You had finally given up after about your eighty-seventh question. How does static electricity work? Why is the answer to Gollum's riddle "time"? Will you scratch my back? Finally, you lay sleeping beside me, no longer small enough to curl up on my chest, your five and a half year old body stretched out in your top bunk. Your hand was gripping mine.

And I counted. One, two, three, four, five. And the other hand. One, two, three, four, five. We've made it this far with all ten digits intact, and those hands are learning, slowly and with many mistakes, to do the good and faithful work to which God will one day call you. I just pray I will be strong enough to hold onto them until we get there. In the meantime, I will stay beside you, looking for that last bit of baby pudginess which is hiding somewhere in those hands, those perfect, handsome, manly hands.

Monday, February 1, 2010

White As Snow

These have been hard weeks around the TwoSquare household. I have been disorganized and sleepy, the boys have been cooped up from cold, rainy weather, and nothing has been quite right. All of that is an equation for disaster with boys, especially Calvin. The yelling and hitting and emotional meltdowns, the sibling fights that end in biting or shoving, the wound up five-year-old who can't fall asleep until sometime between 10:00 p.m. and midnight have all contributed to the misery.

There have been so many days that I ended on the couch wondering how we will ever see Calvin safely into adulthood, wondering what will become of him if he doesn't learn to reign in his violent, uncontrollable emotions. And then I start wondering how Hobbes will even find his own path or learn to negotiate battles without imitating his brother's anger. And I look at sleeping Linus and wonder what effect seeing all of these battles between brothers and parents and children will have on his sweet personality.

By Friday of this week, we were just entrenched, surrounded by carnage. Every little exchange had become a chance to do battle. Life was miserable, especially between me and Calvin.

But snow was in the forecast. When we packed up our snow clothes and headed out to the in-laws' farm, I had no idea how it would go. Five inches of snow, three days of sledding and snow balls, and many hours by the wood stove later, I am grateful. I am grateful that God knew we needed this time together and away from home, with nothing to do but play and relax, with a big house, lots of snow, and a huge collection of Legos. I am grateful that I heard my eldest laugh and watched him sled with such joyful abandon. I am reminded of this time last year, when I saw that same, genuine smile, one that appears so rarely on his alternately serious and joking or insincere face.

I am grateful that God takes our bloody, war-torn, messed-up lives and washes them white as snow. I am praying that I can remember that, and that we can step back into this week holding onto a bit of that joy and rest that fell on us with the snow.